Chicago Bears: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
The Chicago Bears have wrapped up their voluntary OTAs and will have a final mandatory minicamp that will take place June 17-19 before the team takes time off before the start of training camp in late July.
Throughout this offseason, the Bears coaching staff has been evaluating the talent on its roster and determining what the depth chart is going to look like at each position heading into training camp and eventually the regular season.
In the second part of our full position breakdown and depth chart analysis series, we will be taking a look at the wide receiver position.
"This is competition," wide receivers coach Mike Groh told the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs. "Last year there was none. Everbody [sic] knew who they were going to be and where they were going to be. It's not like that this year."
Marshall and Jeffery are firmly entrenched atop the depth chart, but youngsters Marquess Wilson, Chris Williams, Terrence Toliver and Josh Bellamy will be competing with veterans Josh Morgan and Eric Weems for only a handful of available spots.
Despite the Bears having two of the league's best wide receivers, the competition behind them at the position may be one of the most intriguing competitions in training camp.
Here is our full position breakdown and depth chart analysis at wide receiver for the Chicago Bears.
8th String: Josh Bellamy
Awarded to the Bears off waivers from the Washington Redskins this past April, Josh Bellamy has an uphill battle to make the roster this season.
Bellamy appeared in five games for the Redskins last season but did not record a catch. He finished with two special teams tackles.
He has bounced around the league since going undrafted in 2012 with stints in Kansas City, San Diego and Washington before landing in Chicago.
In 2012, Bellamy played in three games for the Chiefs and had two tackles on special teams and returned five kickoffs for 101 yards (20.2-yard average).
He is likely vying for a role as a kick returner, but with guys such as Chris Williams and Eric Weems ahead of him on the depth chart, it seems unlikely he will make the 53-man roster heading into the 2014 season.
7th String: Terrence Toliver
Toliver spent all of training camp and the preseason with the Bears in 2013 before being one of the team's final cuts.
He was signed to the San Diego Chargers' practice squad in early September before being cut and returning to the Bears in late October.
At 6'5", Toliver brings great size and length to the position, but he will face a difficult battle of trying to make this roster if he cannot prove his worth on special teams.
6th String: Eric Weems
The Bears played hardball with two of their overpaid veteran wide receivers in Earl Bennett and Eric Weems this offseason when the team asked them both to take a pay cut.
Weems, a former Pro Bowl kick returner for the Atlanta Falcons, hasn't done much on the field since arriving in Chicago in 2012.
He has had just 18 kickoff returns for 288 yards for the Bears and has been average at best as a special teams contributor.
His willingness to take a pay cut may increase his chances of making this roster, but he will have to prove on the field that he still has the ability to be a difference-maker as a kick returner and that he can be a solid contributor on special teams.
One motivating factor for Eric Weems remaining with #Bears is he believes he will have good chance to make impact in return game.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) April 11, 2014
His biggest competition will likely come from wide receiver Chris Williams and running back Michael Ford at kick returner, but don't rule out recently signed veterans Micheal Spurlock and Armanti Edwards, who could push for an opportunity with a strong minicamp and training camp.
5th String: Chris Williams
Undrafted in 2009, New Mexico State wide receiver Chris Williams signed with the Miami Dolphins that offseason.
After being released by the Dolphins and spending time with the Cleveland Browns, Williams moved on to the Canadian Football League, and in 2012, he set a CFL record with six return touchdowns to go along with 1,117 punt-return yards.
Earlier this offseason, ESPN Chicago's Michael C. Wright wrote that after watching Williams in practice, "he's easily the quickest among the team's receiving corps," and "at training camp, he's definitely a player folks should keep an eye on."
For much of the offseason, it was assumed that Williams stood the best chance of claiming the kick-returning duties vacated by Devin Hester. But with the additions of returners Micheal Spurlock and Armanti Edwards, he will now face more stiff competition.
Edwards and Spurlock both have experience as returners so there is competition for Chris Williams.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 3, 2014
One thing that Williams brings to the wide receiver corps that it desperately lacks is a shifty, speedy wide receiver option.
While he has the ability to make an impact as a return man, he may be a dark-horse candidate to make an impact as a slot wide receiver this season because of his shiftiness and good hands.
4th String: Josh Morgan
A sixth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2008, Josh Morgan has been a steady contributor at the wide receiver position for the past six seasons.
In four seasons with the 49ers and two with the Washington Redskins, Morgan amassed 199 catches for 2,488 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Not long after signing with the Bears, Morgan was arrested on charges of assault in Washington, D.C. He plead not guilty, and when asked by Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times if the situation had been taken care of, he responded: "Pretty much. It is over with."
As long as that situation is in the past, Morgan stands a good chance of filling the role left by Earl Bennett.
Bennett made a living in the Bears offense as a third-down specialist during his six seasons in Chicago, and Morgan is a very similar type of player.
Bears math: Josh Morgan = Earl Bennett.— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) April 21, 2014
Morgan is looking forward to putting the past behind him and has noted that being in Chicago feels like being a rookie all over again, telling Kevin Fishbain of ChicagoFootball.com:
Honestly, for me, it's being like a rookie all over again. Coming out here, you just have to prove yourself all over again. Just have to prove you can play this game. Just gotta go out here with that rookie mentality, like, 'I gotta make the team.'
After an injury to Domenik Hixon earlier in OTAs that ended his season, Morgan stands the best shot of all of the newcomers at the position to make the roster and be a contributor on offense.
3rd String: Marquess Wilson
After slipping to the seventh round of the 2013 draft after leaving the Washington State football program in 2012, Marquess Wilson appears to be ready to take over the third wide receiver spot in 2014.
Wilson played in 10 games for the Bears in 2013, finishing with two receptions for 13 yards. The team plans on giving him a more expanded role, according to head coach Marc Trestman, who said, per 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.
Oh man, he's going to be big-time. I don't know how that guy went in the seventh round. I said the same thing last year, but this year he spent the whole offseason with Brandon [Marshall], put on 5 or 10 pounds, I think. He's explosive, he knows the offense, he knows where to go. He's a playmaker. He's going to be a big part of our offense this year. And if something were to happen to our other two guys, he's a guy I know Jay feels comfortable with, he can jump in and play 'X' or 'Z' and take over for the league's best receivers.
Many think Wilson will be ready to take the next step after spending the offseason working out with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Florida.
"Going out there with Brandon and Alshon, seeing how they worked and them showing me the way, how to be a pro, and taking me under their wing was an eye-opening thing," Wilson told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required).
Wilson told Campbell he now weighs in at 207 pounds after having weighed in at 194 pounds at the NFL combine in February 2013.
There were slight concerns over his frame heading into the 2014 season, but if he can maintain his bigger weight without losing any of his explosiveness or speed, he has a real shot of becoming a major contributor to the offense this season.
Starter: Alshon Jeffery
After hauling in just 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns in his injury-riddled rookie season in 2012, Alshon Jeffery burst onto the scene in 2013 with 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns en route to being named to his first Pro Bowl.
Jeffery has gone on the record this offseason saying he and Brandon Marshall are the best wide receiver duo in the league, but he also knows that they need to continue to work to get better, telling Rana L. Cash of Sporting News (h/t ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright):
I'm not the type of person that brags a lot about anything. But I feel that last year, what we did, we were at the top of the list as the two best receivers. But that was last year. This year we have to set our goal and try our best to do the same thing we did last year, if not better.
He had a knack for making difficult catches look routine last season and appears to be on that same track early in OTAs.
The play of Bears practice was Alshon Jeffery showing off his strong hands on a TD catch in 7-on-7s like the ones we saw last year.— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) June 3, 2014
After his struggles in his rookie season, Jeffery proved last season that he has the ability to become one of the league's top receivers. His willingness and desire to get better should fuel him on to an even more productive season in 2014.
Starter: Brandon Marshall
Since his arrival in Chicago before the 2012 season, Brandon Marshall has helped vastly change the perception of the team's offense in just two seasons.
During his two seasons in Chicago, Marshall has amassed 218 catches for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns.
His stellar two seasons with the Bears helped lead to him signing a three-year, $30 million extension earlier this offseason.
At the press conference announcing the extension, Marshall recalled a conversation he had with quarterback Jay Cutler earlier this offseason regarding his future.
"I said, 'This is going to be my breakout year,'" Marshall recalled to the media. "Jay said, 'Dude, you had seven of them.' Jerry Rice had his breakout year in Year 11. So, I am in (season) nine. I think I can do it."
Those are lofty expectations for Marshall, but he has proven over the years that he is one of the league's most consistent receivers, and that should not change in 2014.
He has acknowledged how beneficial having Alshon Jeffery around is to pushing him as a player and even extending his career, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune:
He's going to extend my career. I'm not going to let this young kid beat me. I want to beat him in every single sprint. I want to beat him to the facility in the morning. We challenge each other. We push each other. So that relationship alone, there's going to be a trickle-down effect.
As long as Marshall and Jeffery continue to push each other in 2014, there is a strong chance that the two will once again be viewed as the league's top receiving duo.