In 2012, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler finally got the big-target wide receiver he had been pining for with receiver Brandon Marshall. Heading into the 2013 season, Marshall will once again be Cutler's top target. Second-year man Alshon Jeffery is expected to line up opposite of him as the team's No. 2 receiver.
With the top two receiver positions set, the third wide receiver position, although appearing to belong to veteran Earl Bennett, is still up for grabs.
Former undrafted free agent Joe Anderson may be a surprise in training camp later this month.
Anderson went undrafted in 2012 after hauling in just 47 passes at FCS school Texas Southern. He was brought in as a tryout player during rookie minicamps. His performance in the three-day camp led to him signing a deal and participating in training camp.
He caught the attention of fans following his game-winning touchdown catch against the New York Giants in the third preseason game, but he was eventually cut and signed to the team's practice squad at the beginning of the season. He was activated for the final three games of the season, participating mostly on special teams.
Due to injuries forcing both Marshall and Jeffery to miss time during the team's OTAs and minicamps this offseason, Anderson has gotten plenty of reps with the first team.
The 6'1", 196-pound Anderson does not match up with the sheer size of Marshall or Jeffery. He relies more on his quickness and explosiveness, which has impressed the Bears' coaching staff.
New wide receivers coach Mike Groh has been especially complimentary of Anderson, saying to the Chicago Tribune:
We've seen good improvement in Joe. As it has slowed down for him mentally, his speed has been more evident on the field. He's made good progress and had a very productive spring.
The level of maturity has been a concern for Anderson in the past, but he has shown a willingness to improve and get better. Groh also told the Chicago Tribune that, "in the installation meetings, he's right there next to me. He's very inquisitive. He wants to know what to do, how to do it and why we do it."
Anderson's highlight video from his days at Texas Southern shows the explosiveness that he has after catching the football and his aggressiveness and desire to pick up extra yards. He told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times prior to his first regular-season appearance last year:
I'm just a dog -- that's the way I describe my ability on the field. I'm not stepping out of bounds for nobody. I've been in the weight room. I'm very physical. I'll go up and get it. I have a 42-inch vertical. I'll go up and get it if you need to be thrown up like that. Short yardage, I can get the first down. Whatever. I can run routes, 15 yard routes, come out of my break. I can do pretty much anything.
Anderson has said all of the right things and appears to be doing the right things to show this new coaching staff that he has the ability to play at this level.
His biggest obstacle to getting on the field will be Earl Bennett, who has struggled with injuries in the past and has slowly declined since his second season in 2009. Bennett's experience and rapport with Cutler gives him the early upper hand, but Anderson appears to have built a solid foundation with wide receivers coach Mike Groh.
His biggest impact could come at the slot receiver position. He is built like prototypical slot receivers like Victor Cruz (6'0" 204 lbs) and Danny Amendola (5'11" 188 lbs), but his NFL speed is still a question mark.
If he can continue to work with the coaching staff on his routes and technique, he has shown at the collegiate level that he can be an impact player.
While the NFL is certainly a step up, he will likely get an opportunity to fight Bennett for the slot receiver position and could be a surprise offensive weapon in 2013.