After decades of being known as a defense-first team, the Chicago Bears evolved into one of the league's most potent offenses in 2013, finishing second in scoring behind only the Denver Broncos.
Much of the team's success was based off of the breakout year from wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who finished sixth in receiving yards with 1,421, and yet another stellar season from Brandon Marshall, who finished 11th in the league with 1,295 yards. Both were named to the Pro Bowl.
The bulk of the passing game went through Jeffery, Marshall, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett in 2013, but the team will be looking to see if second-year receiver Marquess Wilson can take the next step.
Last month, the team released veteran Earl Bennett, via ChicagoBears.com, opening up the door for Wilson to become the team's third receiver. Last offseason, Jeffery spent his offseason training with Marshall in Florida, and Wilson has followed their lead.
At the NFL owners' meetings last month, Marc Trestman commented on Wilson, telling the media, via Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
I think he showed that we can work with him and develop him. He’s got the football intelligence that we’re looking for and the ability to be flexible within the offense. He was consistent. So we’ll see how it goes. We’re not anointing people at this point in time. He’s going to have a chance to compete and be a part of what we do after Alshon and Brandon (Marshall). We’ll see how it goes. We’ve got a long way to go but we like (Wilson) and we’re excited about him to develop him and work him.
While Wilson seems like the logical choice, the Bears are not going to just give him that spot, and he will have to compete with Hixon, who the team signed to a one-year deal this offseason, via ChicagoBears.com.
After catching 43 passes for 596 yards and two touchdowns in 2009 for the New York Giants, Hixon suffered back-to-back ACL injuries in 2010 and 2011. He bounced back in 2012 to catch 39 passes for 567 yards and two touchdowns for the Giants but finished last season with just seven receptions for 55 yards and one touchdown for the Carolina Panthers.
Two sleeper candidates who are currently on the roster are Terrence Toliver and Chris Williams.
Toliver has bounced around since going undrafted in 2011 but spent training camp with the team last year and parts of the 2013 season on the team's practice squad. He is fast for someone of his size (6'3") but still struggles to create separation.
Williams may be one of the more intriguing names on the roster.
At 5'8" and 175 pounds, he is one of the smaller players in the league but has failed to stick in the NFL after stints with the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints. His most productive time came in 2012 in the CFL while playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In that season, he had 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns, in addition to 78 punt returns for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns.
Considering the options currently on the Bears roster, it appears to be a given that Wilson will wind up being the team's third wide receiver in 2014, but he is going to have to earn it.