Assessing the Chicago Bears pass catching corps

In a pass oriented league where the athletic abilities of skill position players on both sides of the ball have exponentially increased over time, it is imperative for a team to have an array of playmakers on the edges.

For the Chicago Bears, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett at tight end were instrumental parts of the battery known as Marc Trestman’s prolific offense last season. Sixth in receptions and tied for fifth in touchdown catches, Chicago’s offensive struggles and reliance on defensive prowess are just a mere image of the past.

In 2013, the Bears number one and number two receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, established themselves as arguably the best wide receiver combination in football. A league-leading 189 combined receptions from the Bears tandem fell just two yards shy of an NFL-best 2,718 receiving yards accumulated by the Denver Broncos dominating one-two punch of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, now of the New York Jets.

Brandon Marshall

Over the course of Brandon Marshall’s first two years with the Bears, the five-time Pro Bowler was responsible for 33 percent of the receptions, a staggering statistic that continues to insist the career consistency of this offensive ball hawk even during his time in Miami where insufficient quarterback play overshadowed a pair of 1,000-yard seasons. Compiling 1,295 receiving yards (7th straight 1,000-yard season) and team-leading 100 receptions last season, Marshall’s rekindled connection with Jay Cutler has been nothing short of stellar as the two have emerged as one of the NFL’s best quarterback-receiver duos over the last two seasons.

Across from Marshall is third-year wide out Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery may be the shortest of the three pass catchers at 6-foot-3, however, he plays above and beyond of his frame. The former University of South Carolina standout has graced the Bears with 4.4 speed and the deep threat playmaking abilities that were evident to be established early on in his career while playing as a Gamecock. Jeffery exemplified his abilities to haul in the deep ball last year making countless acrobatic catches like these:

Due to Jeffery’s knack for making big plays, the fan favorite accumulated a team leading 1,421 receiving yards, which was also good enough for sixth in all of football. In an offensive system that caters to Jeffery’s playing style, the first time Pro Bowl receiver’s potential continues to ascend, bringing heavier expectations in year two of Trestman’s well-oiled offensive system.

The last piece that composed of 2013’s dominating pass catching trio is tight end Martellus Bennett. In his first season in Chicago, Bennett compiled 65 receptions for 759 yards hauling in five touchdown catches while showcasing the skill set to line up in the slot and make plays over the middle of the field in conjunction with maintaining the threat to score in the redzone. The seven-year veteran is part of the widely considered hybrid tight end position that emphasizes a bigger and stronger frame with the talent to run routes and reel in catches like a wide out.

With second-year receiver Marquess Wilson suffering a fractured clavicle injury that required surgery earlier this week, the Bears continue their search for a slot receiver to assume the number three role behind Marshall and Jeffery on the depth chart. Wilson had been a bright spot in training camp and was poised to solidify the role as the third receiver, providing even more size to the Bears pass catching corps, standing at 6-4. General Manager Phil Emery has yet to put a timetable to Wilson’s return, however, acted quickly by adding 2013 undrafted free agent Greg Herd out of Eastern Washington to the mix.

It will likely be Herd, special teams contributor Chris Weems, Josh Bellamy, Josh Morgan, and Chris Williams all competing for the slot role. Morgan and Weems, the two veterans in the competition, seemed to be the early front runners before Herd was signed.

At 6-3, Herd continues to fit the Bears demand for lengthy pass catchers. It is likely that the Bears’ coaching staff will take their time assessing the talent available for the back end of this position’s depth chart, but what is for certain is that this offense is built to thrive and sustain success if the personnel can remain healthy. The Monsters of the Midway are no longer the defense here in Chicago but rather Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and the outstanding abundance of pass catchers that compose the Chicago Bears offense.