Entering his fourth year, Marquess WIlson is running out of time. He might also be looking at the best opportunity he has had in his career.
While Alshon Jeffery still doesn’t want to be a part of the team, Wilson is the person who benefits the most, getting all of the first-team reps. OTAs are where a finesse player like Wilson can thrive and, while he won’t be able to win a job until they put the pads on, the fact that he’s there getting reps in front of the new offensive coordinator (with a quarterback who already likes him) can only help him.
My immediate reaction to Wilson’s 2015 campaign was that it was a letdown. Then I re-watched and it was impossible to ignore one fact: the dude made big plays. Big plays are usually what decides a game.
Every time Wilson made a play we heard announcers talk about how much Cutler and the Bears like him. In terms of size and speed, he is a rare specimen and he seems to have a natural feel for what to do when plays break down. Wilson’s total stats aren’t impressive, but he had five catches for more than 30 yards and two more that were exactly 29 yards. He wasn’t consistent for a number of reasons, but with the offense they’re trying to build, the Bears don’t need him to catch 100 passes. They just need him to make big plays when the opportunity presents itself. He showed he could do that last year and now needs to work on the little stuff.
Wilson’s problem has always been his strength. On the field, he can’t out-fight defensive backs for balls and he can’t block. The bigger issue with that, of course, is that he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. He missed the majority of his second season with a broken collarbone and ended last year on IR with a foot injury.
After last season, the Bears told Wilson to do one thing: get stronger. Photos can be deceiving, but Wilson looks noticeably bigger this year. I’ve been told Wilson put on 10-to-15 pounds this offseason and the Bears think adding strength will help him play and stay on the field. That can’t be proven until they get physical.
Fans have seemingly run out of patience with Wilson because he was hyped as a future star before he played a snap. Young, rail thin and coming from a spread offense, it was always going to take Wilson two years before he could make an impact. He’s younger than Kevin White and 2016 NFL draftees Braxton Miller and Malcolm Mitchell. He’s only about 100 days older than first-round pick Josh Doctson. He made an impact last year and now it’s time to see if he can step up and be a starter.
With Jeffery’s agent saying he won’t hold out of training camp (reminder: he’s under contract) and all the praise that is surrounding White, Wilson might have a difficult time getting on the field. But if he tears it up in OTAs and continues that into training camp and preseason, the Bears might not have a choice but to find targets for him in 2016.
Beyond this year, however, is where he has a chance to make an even greater impact. It has been pretty clear the Bears would like to move on from Jeffery. But doing so without a replacement might prove to be too risky. He’ll probably never be a Number One receiver but if Wilson can show the Bears he can be the starter opposite White and keep making big plays, Jeffery will be much easier to move on from.