In the wake of the 2013 free agency, draft and offseason work at minicamps and OTAs, CSNChicago.com examines where the Bears have gone and where they will be going when training camp convenes in late July. One of a series.
Last offseason GM Phil Emery struck with a trade of two draft choices for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, then followed that by trading up in the draft for Alshon Jeffery. Not since the Bears drafted Curtis Conway No. 7 overall in 1993 and traded for Jeff Graham in 1994 has the organization moved so aggressively to upgrade the wide receiver position.
Emery also addressed tight end with the 2012 pick of Evan Rodriguez, which didn’t work out, and then made a bold strike at the outset of free agency this year with the signing of Martellus Bennett. The Bears drafted Greg Olsen 31st overall in 2007 and Kellen Davis in the fifth round the next year but Bennett is expected to be an upgrade over both.
And his rapport with quarterback Jay Cutler has gotten off to a superb start, with Bennett’s mix of work and wacky.
“He brings a different humor, a different swagger to that offensive group,” Cutler said. “He keeps things light, but he knows when it’s time to work. It’s good having him in meetings. He kind of breaks some of the monotony up, and out here when things get a little bit stagnant, he’s a tall guy and he’s not afraid to use his voice, so it’s good having him around.”
Without Rodriguez, the Bears’ offense is down a tight end but unheralded Fendi Onobun, at 6-6, 260 pounds, has quietly attracted coaches’ notice through offseason practices. Consider him a player to watch.
“If you’re going to run a spread offense, you need two tight ends,” Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow told CSNChicago.com. “You need one that’s versatile, can be in the backfield and work in the H-back position. And then you need the other who can also be a blocker.
“So if you get two who can catch and block, then you’ve got something special. It doesn’t take away a receiver. It adds another blocker and adds to the versatility.”
“Versatility” is the operative word and a guiding principle in the receiver corps, which also includes Earl Bennett, a designer No. 3 receiver who can work the slot as well as deeper, in the mold of a Tom Waddle.
Issue No. 1: Building equal-opportunity trust
Marshall was the focal point of the 2012 offense and was the leading wide receiver in preseason, tying Jeffery with eight receptions although Jeffery at the time was working with the 2’s and quarterback Jason Campbell.
In Bennett (6-6), Marshall (6-4) and Jeffery (6-3) the Bears have one of the bigger starting receiver groups in the NFL. The key in the offense is getting the football out of Cutler’s hands and into those of playmakers in selected attack areas of the field.
Part of the difficulty last season was that Cutler lacked full confidence in components of the receiver group after Marshall. A successful distribution of the football is axiomatic to the success of the offense and that takes its next step in training camp.
Issue No. 1a: Health
After earning his way into the starting lineup by week three, Jeffery ultimately missed all of six games with hand and knee injuries in addition to part of the San Francisco game. He also was unavailable for portions of the offseason practices with leg issues, not what he and the offense need during the installation of a new system and his quarterback’s orientation process.
Bennett missed four games to injury last season as well.
Marshall underwent what was described as a minor hip surgery early this offseason but was not able to work during most of the offseason sessions. He and Cutler need little work on their chemistry but the Trestman offense is a melding of many moving parts and the Bears need Marshall to be “moving.”