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Why we should worry about Brandon Marshall

Updated: August 28, 2013 7:58PM



Don’t worry about Brandon Marshall? On the contrary, you should be very worried about Brandon Marshall.

You should be worried about a guy who makes every catch he can when he’s the center of Jay Cutler’s universe but suddenly develops the dropsies when the ball starts going to Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

You should be worried about a guy who seems fine after he catches a touchdown pass against the Chargers but has hip issues and frets about his role in the offense after catching zero balls against the Raiders.

Most of all you should worry about a guy who has done an exemplary job of conforming, rehabilitating himself and being a great teammate since being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, yet can’t seem to outrun his star-crossed fate.

Marshall’s hip issue and his concern about his role in Marc Trestman’s offense might be Brandon being Brandon, as Jay Cutler seemed to imply. But the Marshall story that cropped up Tuesday is another reminder of the challenge Marshall faces and the Bears face in managing an elite but complicated wide receiver. There always seems to be something.

Cynics doubted whether Marshall could stay as reformed as he claimed to be when he signed with the Bears last season. But he proved them all wrong with a remarkable season on and off the field. He set franchise records for receptions (118) and yards (1,508) and scoring 11 touchdowns. He was accountable and a leader-by-example. What made the biggest impression was that he was trying so hard. I’m convinced we were seeing the real Brandon Marshall.

That’s why it was almost painful to see Marshall’s prolific 2012 season ultimately end in disappointment, when the Bears failed to make the playoffs after a 7-1 start and coach Lovie Smith get fired.

It continued a litany of disappointment that has punctuated Marshall’s career. In seven seasons in the NFL, Marshall has made the Pro Bowl four times yet has never played in a playoff game. At each of his three stops in the NFL, his coach has been fired (Mike Shanahan in Denver, Tony Sparano in Miami and Smith).

The Bears’ demise last season, when they finished 10-6 after the 7-1 start, continued a familiar pattern that has followed Marshall throughout his NFL career. In 2006, the Broncos lost four straight after a 7-2 start; in 2007, the Broncos lost four out of five late in the season to fall out of playoff contention; in 2008, the Broncos lost their last three games to go from leading the division to out of the playoffs; in 2009, the Broncos lost eight of their last 10 after a 6-0 start; in 2010 the Dolphins lost their last three and four of their last five. In 2011, the Dolphins went 5-3 inthe second half, but only after a 1-7 start. There’s always something.

Whether it’s just in his mind or not, Marshall’s concern about his role in Trestman’s offense can’t be ignored. Even Cutler has acknowledged that Marshall’s need to get the ball can be an issue. And after last season it remains to be seen if he can be comfortable in a more diversified offense where he might not catch 118 balls and almost certainly will not have 41 percent of the receptions.

As seemed to be the case against the Raiders last week, Marshall seems to lose focus when he’s not the focus of the offense. He made a tough catch in the end zone against the Chargers. But he had three drops — including an inexcusable one on third-and-four — after Cutler started looking elsewhere against the Raiders. It happened last year as well, when Marshall dropped a touchdown pass against the Packers in Green Bay in a game in which he was not even targeted until the third quarter.

As talented as he is, Marshall seems a bit cursed by fate. As a junior at Central Florida he sacrificed his offensive numbers by starting at safety for seven games to fill a team need — and the team went 0-11. The following year UCF qualified for the Hawaii Bowl against Nevada and Marshall was magnificent. He had 11 receptions for 210 yards and three touchdowns, including a 16-yard touchdown with 55 seconds left that should have won the game, 43-42. But Matt Prater missed the PAT and UCF lost in overtime. Just Marshall’s luck.

A big part of Trestman’s charge as coach of the Bears is to nurture Cutler into the elite quarterback so many think he can be. But managing Marshall through the season — even in the best of times — could prove just as challenging. While Marshall is an elite NFL receiver, more is not always better. Marshall’s teams are just 10-16 in games in which he has 100 or more yards receiving, but 14-9 when he has between 75 and 100 yards receiving. (The Lions’ Calvin Johnson, by comparison, is 11-21 in games with 100 or more yards receiving and 3-13 with 75-100 yards — so you can’t say the same thing about him.)

Despite Marshall’s record-setting season, the Bears’ offense still dropped from 24th to 28th in total yards last season. Is that yet another red flag or just another quirk of fate that has haunted Marshall’s career? A day after he lamented his recovering hip and fretted about his role on the team, he was gone — a pre-planned, excused absence for personal reasons. Who knows what the deal really is. But that’s just the point. With Brandon Marshall, there’s always something.



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