Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15), left, talks to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:45PM
When the Denver Broncos drafted him in 2006, Brandon Marshall modeled himself after teammate Rod Smith, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver who owned every significant team record at the position.
During organized team activities in the spring, Marshall emulated Smith, who was taking copious notes during meetings.
“He was taking notes like he was me, a guy who had never been in the offense,” Marshall recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s what a professional does.’ ’’
Smith turned 36 that May, and he had 797 catches for 10,877 yards and 66 touchdowns in his previous 11 seasons.
Try as he might, though, Marshall couldn’t pretend for long; note-taking was an exercise in futility for him.
“Everybody wants to look at the tangibles, about how big and strong and fast he is, how he’s able to make all the catches,” said University of Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who was the Broncos’ receivers coach in 2008. “But what stood out to me is how smart he is. He didn’t have to take notes, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes on the field.
“He understands the game extremely well.”
Marshall is on pace to break the Bears’ record for catches (118), receiving yards (1,594) and receiving touchdowns (14) in a season, displaying his knack for getting open and securing catches from every angle imaginable.
But, as Fisch suggested, Marshall’s mental makeup has been as important as his physical makeup in his quick ascension to focal point of the Bears’ offense.
Jay Cutler said last week that Marshall knows the quarterback’s reads, calls out plays in the huddle and knows every receiver position.
“He’s extremely smart, and his ability to adjust in the middle of routes, depending on coverage, is extraordinary,” Cutler said. “He’s able to cut a route off and get open in a spot where it’s not called there. It’s just an adjustment by him that makes my job a lot easier.”
But receivers coach Darryl Drake said that’s shortchanging Marshall.
“He knows what everyone is doing,” Drake said, “where everyone is supposed to be.”
Including offensive linemen?
“He knows a lot of what they’re supposed to do also,” Drake said. “He’s got a quarterback’s mind playing wide receiver.”
That isn’t an accident.
Marshall’s father, Fred, was a successful high school quarterback in Pittsburgh, and Brandon played that position as a high school senior.
“I was a quarterback, and a quarterback’s responsibility is to know everyone’s position,” Fred said. “Not just an offense, but the defense, too.”
When Brandon wanted to learn the receiver position, Fred stressed leverage and how to run routes based on how defensive backs lined up against him.
“ ‘If this guy is playing this way, you run it like that,’ ” Brandon recalled. “At the time, I didn’t understand it, but when I got to varsity, it hit me, ‘Oh, this is what he was teaching me.’
“He was always giving me stuff years in advance.”
And recognizing his own limitation — that he didn’t have sprinter’s speed — Marshall said he had to be “quarterback-friendly.” Even flip-flopping from receiver to safety for two seasons at Central Florida helped Brandon, Fred said.
“He knows the thinking of the defensive back,” Fred said, “and he knows what they’re supposed to cover and what they’re not.
“He played the position long enough to know what to look for.”
The football IQ, though, can be a dual-edged sword.
“Sometimes that gets me in trouble because I expect other people to catch on to things the way I do,” Marshall said. “For me, it’s one of those things where football clicks.
“I understand concepts well and why coaches put in formations and certain plays.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said Marshall and Cutler are diligent in fleshing out how they’ll react on a given play based on the defense.
“When we rep it,’’ Tice said, ‘‘there will be times we’ll pause before we put the next play in because they’re talking through a certain route against a certain coverage. ‘Hey, when you see this, do that.’ It’s very impressive how they work together.”
Tice has an open-door policy with his players, and Marshall isn’t shy about offering up his opinions.
“He’s good, and he has some good ideas,” Tice said. “Sometimes, I feel — whether I’m right or wrong — he has some bad ideas.
“But I want the guys to feel like they can say what they want to say to me.”