Receivers other than Brandon Marshall must step up
BY ADAM L. JAHNS email@example.com July 30, 2013 8:21PM
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) works on the field during NFL football training camp Friday, July 26, 2013, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Updated: July 31, 2013 9:24AM
BOURBONNAIS — As great as last season was for him, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall knows it was a bit ridiculous that he ended up with 74 receptions more than his closest teammate.
‘‘That’s probably the reason I got hurt last year — I had so many receptions,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘I had 118, and the next guy had . That’s a problem.’’
While the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett and the increased use of running back Matt Forte will help, the need for other receivers to emerge as reliable options for quarterback Jay Cutler in coach Marc Trestman’s version of the West Coast offense is paramount. And they know it.
‘‘We definitely have to step up and make our presence felt because that will just help out Brandon, Matt and those other guys,’’ receiver Earl Bennett said. ‘‘We’ve just got to do our job. We’ve got to get ready for the season and execute.’’
There are high hopes for second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery, especially if he can stay healthy. Earl Bennett is aiming to rediscover his past success with Cutler, and Joe Anderson has shown during practices that he’s capable of being a legitimate NFL-caliber receiver when given the chance.
One staple of Trestman’s offenses when he was a coordinator was maximizing the skills of his top receiver, whether it was Jerry Rice, David Boston, Frank Sanders or Webster Slaughter. That will continue with Marshall, but there has to be balance, too.
Last season, Marshall accounted for 46 percent of the Bears’ receiving yards. Trestman has emphasized a balanced approach during camp and has made it a point to commend his quarterbacks when he thinks they spread the ball around effectively.
Jeffery, Bennett and Anderson like the flexibility of Trestman’s offense. Bennett, for instance, has been used primarily as a slot receiver in the past, but that’s not the case anymore. There’s more for him to do.
‘‘It’s actually different in this offense, and I like it,’’ said Bennett, who had 29 catches for 375 yards and two touchdowns last season. ‘‘I’m flexible to move around to different positions. Depending on the formation, you’ll never know where I’ll be.’’
The erratic health of the Bears’ receiving corps also makes more options a must. Marshall will be cautious after having offseason hip surgery, Jeffery already has dealt with multiple injuries in his short career and Bennett is coming off consecutive injury-plagued seasons. Anderson was able to begin working with the first-team offense this offseason with Marshall (hip) and Jeffery (hamstring) sidelined during organized team activities.
In that regard, they’re all doing their best to develop — or, in Bennett’s case, re-establish — a rapport with Cutler.
‘‘[Cutler] gives all the receivers good feedback,’’ said Anderson, an undrafted second-year free agent from Texas Southern. ‘‘I’m starting to get a little more relaxed and confident with it. I’m just coming out here every day and taking advantage of it, showing him that, ‘Hey, I’m here for you. Whatever you need me to do, I’ll help you out.’ ’’
The overall goal is to give Cutler multiple options he trusts when he goes through his reads, which have sped up under Trestman.
‘‘[Cutler] wants to be the best quarterback in the game,’’ said Jeffery, who made 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns last season. ‘‘He’s got a chip on his shoulder. All the
receivers and all the skill guys, we look forward to making sure he’s the best quarterback in the game.’’