The 2015 Chicago Bears could end up needing Marquess Wilson more than many think.
While nobody seems overly concerned with Kevin White’s health, the fact that he’s barely practiced since the Bears drafted him should be worrisome. Alshon Jeffery has had various injury issues in the past. When the Bears top two receivers were struggling last year, they didn’t have an answer. It should almost be expected for that to happen again this year and, if it does, they’ll need Wilson to step up.
Ordinarily, an expected starter missing time before training camp begins wouldn’t be a big deal but White is a special case. Before the draft, there were some concerns about his route running and ability to adjust to the NFL. The Bears are expecting him to be ready for training camp, but he’s already behind. As physically gifted as he may be, he’s raw and needs as many reps as he can get.
Wilson will be the starter entering camp and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him split time with White early in the season. Although last year’s rookie wide receivers were super productive, that should be treated as the exception, not the rule. Even super freaks like Megatron and Julio Jones started slowly as rookies.
If you look beyond 2015, as the Bears likely are, they need to know if Wilson could be a potential replacement for Jeffery. The team still hasn’t had contract talks with their star receiver and his price tag is only going to go up after Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas get their contracts. If the Bears viewed Jeffery as a Number One receiver, they’d be working hard to get his deal done. All evidence at hand suggests they don’t, so they need to know if they have a potential in house replacement.
It seems like a long time ago, but the Bears were once in love with Wilson. It’s why they didn’t add serious competition to him before the 2014 season. The old regime is gone but two big supporters Wilson still has are wide receivers coach Mike Groh and quarterback Jay Cutler.
Groh has raved about WIlson’s footwork and route running. Even at 6’4”, he can play in the slot and has shown the ability to get open. Cutler trusted Wilson with a big play in the 2013 finalé, going to him for a first down on second-and-short. Wilson made a catch in traffic and broke a tackle.
Jay’s reaction… https://t.co/ZW2I4qg1TD
— Andrew Dannehy (@ChiBearsAD) July 14, 2015
Before Wilson returned to the lineup last year, Cutler said he trusted Wilson as much as he could trust any receiver. That trust was broken a few weeks into Wilson’s return as he couldn’t catch a cold.
The second-year receiver has since said he didn’t feel like himself. He seemed to drop as many passes as he caught and didn’t really get into the flow of the offense until Week 16 with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. In his last two games, Wilson caught nine of the 13 passes thrown his way and managed 33 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. If he can be relied on to catch passes and make plays after the catch, the Bears will have a hard time keeping him off the field this year. If he can’t, he won’t have a job. The Bears didn’t have a choice but to keep him and play him last year. This year, they do, especially due to the arrival of Eddie Royal in the same position.
The best thing Wilson has going for him is the fact that he’s still young. He will be 22 when the season starts, the same age as White, although Wilson turns 23 in September. The fact that Wilson hasn’t become an established star shouldn’t be a surprise. Going back to 2010, there have only been five receivers who have had 1,000-yard seasons before their 23rd birthdays.
Early returns have been positive for Wilson as Fox noted him as someone who “caught their eye.” Practice has never been a problem for the young receiver. He has two years of being a camp all-star under his belt, but only 19 receptions on his NFL resume.
Although he’s young, Wilson is fighting for his NFL life in 2015. If he proves to be the player the Bears once thought, he could allow them to ease White into the offense and give them an option when it comes to the future of Alshon Jeffery. Even if White and Jeffery are firing on all cylinders from the beginning of the year, replacing the vertically challenged Royal with Wilson in the red zone could make the Bears a matchup nightmare.
While his performance may not be as crucial as it was a year ago, the Bears to need a contribution from Wilson if they’re going to reach their full potential. Whether he’s capable of doing it is anyone’s guess.