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SUNDAY PLAYBOOK: Credit Bears WR coach Mike Groh for Marshall-Jeffery magic

Receivers coach Mike Groh was considered risk work with BrandMarshall because he came directly from college environment. | Sun-Times Library

Receivers coach Mike Groh was considered a risk to work with Brandon Marshall because he came directly from the college environment. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: December 18, 2013 6:29AM



Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will take the field Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens as the best receiving tandem in the NFL.

There’s no debating the numbers.

Marshall and Jeffery have combined for 1,521 receiving yards, more than any other receiving duo in the league.

‘‘That’s something I take a lot of pride in,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘Before, I was trying to be the best wide receiver in the league. Now my sole focus is on building this dynamic tandem that’s hard to stop.’’

Playing an important but almost unnoticed role is receivers coach Mike Groh, the last addition to coach Marc Trestman’s staff. Some thought hiring Groh could create an unstable situation — a coach with mainly college experience in charge of coaching up Marshall, the star who had taken Jeffery under his wing.

Even Marshall admitted he had doubts about how things would work with Groh, who spent 2011 and 2012 at Alabama. But the results — Marshall with 60 catches for 786 yards and eight touchdowns and Jeffery with 47 catches for 735 yards and three TDs — say things are working just fine.

‘‘At first, I’ve got to say, I was a little nervous about working with a college coach,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘They have this different attitude, and it’s tough. But it’s really worked out for the better, and it’s something I’ve been looking for my whole career — looking for a guy who can really push me.’’

An essential part of quarterback Josh McCown being able to perform well in place of Jay Cutler is what Marshall and Jeffery are doing. The threat of one prevents opponents from focusing on the other. Incessant double-teams have become a thing of the past for Marshall.

It may seem like an easy job coaching players with such natural size and talents, but Groh has found ways to challenge both, especially Marshall.

‘‘Where I was in Week 1 is totally different — it’s night and day from where I am today,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘I feel more explosive, I feel like I’m peaking at the right time, and honestly, it’s really Coach Groh. He’s really doing a great job of putting us in uncomfortable situations every day, in the film room, on the practice field, so the game day is easy for us.’’

Groh, the son of longtime NFL coach Al Groh, said the plan for coaching Marshall was just being himself while stressing the details of the X’s and O’s of Trestman’s offense.

‘‘I just try to be technical with him,” Groh said. ‘‘You establish a relationship over time. You can’t force something like that. I think that Brandon and I certainly have a solid foundation to our friendship and to our relationship as coach and player.’’

Getting your star receiver to buy into you is an accomplishment in itself.

‘‘He certainly hasn’t disappointed me with his ability,’’ Groh said, ‘‘but he’s really impressed me with . . . his eagerness to try and improve, even with all the success that he’s had, and how much he studies his opponent.’’

COACH’S CORNER

Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer looks at Ravens linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs:

The Bears are facing one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league this week in the Baltimore Ravens, and keeping quarterback Josh McCown ‘‘clean,’’ as they like to say, will come down to keeping linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs in check.

The Bears have faced a handful of 3-4 defenses already this year, but Dumervil and Suggs are a unique threat to the offensive line. They’re big, strong and nasty and have combined for 17 sacks.

As a team, the Ravens have 32 sacks, third-most in the NFL. The Bears’ defensive line has totaled just nine.

‘‘Dumervil has been a good rusher for a long time,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘[He’s] very powerful, has speed coming off the edge and will turn the power on you. So you’re trying to catch up to his speed, and then he’s knocking guys into the quarterback. And Suggs has multiple moves that he’ll show with his power and then knock your hands off and get to the quarterback.

‘‘They have a lot of sacks. And like we say every Thursday when we talk sacks, sacks are a product of people being covered and holding the ball too long. So we’re going to try to get the ball out quick and do a good job in protection.’’

UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT

Jordan Palmer, QB | No. 2:

The Bears’ backup to the backup is ready if needed. Jordan Palmer said he feels confident and comfortable in the offense in his second stint with the Bears this season.

‘‘We have a lot more in [than in the preseason], but I feel like it’s clicking for me very quickly,’’ said Palmer, who will back up Josh McCown against the Baltimore Ravens with Jay Cutler injured.

‘‘I had a great foundation to build off of. I was here this preseason, but I really was only here like nine days. It’s different than being here through all the [organized team activities]. But the little sample size that I had, it made sense to me really quickly.’’

Palmer credits working with McCown, Cutler, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and head coach Marc Trestman for helping his integration.

‘‘Just being around Coach Trestman, just through osmosis you learn offense,’’ he said. ‘‘But I feel good. I feel like it’s clicking, and if I’m needed to go in there, I have a ton of confidence that I’ll go in there, be able to move the ball down the field, score and win.’’

HOT READS

The Bears’ defense needs some of the positives from last week to carry over against the Ravens; holding the high-scoring Detroit Lions to 14 points halfway through the fourth quarter means something was working.

That makes safety Chris Conte one to watch. His interception and pass breakup against Calvin Johnson were feel-good plays. He admittedly has struggled with his confidence.

‘‘Knowing that I can make those plays helps out a lot,’’ Conte said. ‘‘I needed it. It’s about time. Hopefully, I can build off of that.’’
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The Bears are fortunate that tight end Martellus Bennett, who is questionable with a sore ankle, values toughing out injuries. Until the Fendi Onobun experiment goes from the practice squad to the active roster, there’s no one who can replace Bennett in the offense. He’s too unique.

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Weekly stat to consider: While there’s been a lot of talk about the Bears establishing their run game this week, the Ravens have allowed just one rushing touchdown this season.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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