2014 Bears outlook: Receivers

2014 Bears outlook: Receivers
February 7, 2014, 9:15 am
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This is the fourth in a series looking back at the Bears' 2013 season, by position. Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin is breaking down where each position group succeeded and failed this past season, where it needs to get better and how the personnel may look different next season after free agency.

Overview: Over the past two offseasons the organization tilted, philosophically committing significant resources to building its receiver corps through trade (Brandon Marshall), the draft (Alshon Jeffery) and free agency (Martellus Bennett). Add to that a scheme that produced a record 74 receptions by a running back (Matt Forte) and the result is an offense that ran the ball less than 40 percent of its snaps.

The offense still managed an edge in time of possession for the third straight year, the first time since 1991. And the 32 touchdown passes set a franchise record.

[NFL Draft: Kiper -- Bears can’t wait to draft elite DL]

2013: The emergence of Jeffery to a Pro Bowl (alternate) level, giving the Bears a tandem to All-Star receivers, bordered on the epic when coupled with the acquisition and play of Martellus Bennett. The offense had at least one 100-yard receiver in 10 of the 16 games, Jeffery and Marshall had 100 each in the second Detroit game, and Jeffery himself had 100 yards twice in two games – 218 vs. New Orleans, 249 at Minnesota.

The problem is, the Bears also lost all five of the games in which Jeffery netted at least 100 yards, including three division games (both to Detroit, one at the Vikings).

Marshall produced standard 100 receptions, 12 of them for touchdowns, and 70 of his catches went for first downs.

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Bennett delivered a record year for a Bears tight end with 65 catches but the offense was able to get him into the end zone just once over the final nine games, five of them losses.

Looking ahead: The defeats in otherwise stellar passing-receiving games can be blamed on defensive debacles to a point. But the offense is expected to continue as Jay Cutler and arguably the best receiver group in franchise history have an offseason, training camp and preseason to settle into the Marc Trestman scheme and develop added comfort levels among the group.

The specific role of Earl Bennett remains unclear in part because of his current $2.35 million base salary for 2014. He caught just 32 passes in 2013 (four for touchdowns) and the money is heavy for someone who has not been a full-time starter since 2008. More significantly, the organization was pleased with the progress of seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson in limited duty.

“Earl Bennett stepped up and had a number of key catches this year,” said GM Phil Emery. “[And] we see a bright future for Marquess Wilson.”

Strategies: After draft hits with Jeffery and Wilson the past two drafts, plus the acquisitions of Marshall and Martellus Bennett, Emery’s work may not be completely finished but he is in less of an acquisition mode than when he arrived in 2012. The needs on defense limit the options on offense, but the needs at receiver have been addressed enough over the past two years to allow focusing elsewhere.

2014 Position Outlook Series

Part 1: Defensive Line 

Part 2: Quarterback

Part 3: Linebackers

Part 4: Receivers

Part 5: Offensive Line

Part 6: Defensive backs

Part 7: Running backs