In this ongoing series, we'll take a position by position look at the Chicago Bears roster with an eye towards 2013. We'll speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions we'd like to see. Also thanks to our friends at Pro Football Focus, we'll bring you their unique insight on the Chicago Bears.
The Marc Trestman West Coast Offense that the Chicago Bears will now be running has always been a boon for wide receivers. With the short pass being used in place of some runs, it allows the wide outs to get the ball quickly to take advantage of their run after the catch skills. The WCO traditionally isn't about blazing track speed at WR, rather they need to be good route runners, with the ability to shield off defenders. Toughness is a must too, as the route combinations will usually have someone going over the middle.
The Bears revamped their receiving corps last year, and the holdovers should be able to thrive in the new system.
Brandon Marshall - Signed through 2014 - I think Marshall's 2012 production was even better than most Bears fans hoped. He set franchise records of 118 receptions and 1,508 receiving yards, and his 11 receiving TDs were the 6th best in Bears history. He was targeted too much (181), but that should work itself out if the Chicago receiving corps can remain healthy, and if the WCO is successful in involving the backs and tight ends in the passing game.
Pro Football Focus had Marshall with the 9th highest WR grade for the 2012 season with a +21.2. He was also the 9th best run blocking WR last year. If we go back to 2008, the last time Marshall was in a version of the West Coast Offense, he was the 12th graded PFF WR, and his 104 receptions was 3rd in the NFL.
Alshon Jeffery - Signed through 2015 - Jeffery had a typical rookie season. There were some ups and downs, he battled through a few injuries, and he flashed the potential that caused Bears GM Phil Emery to trade up in the second round to grab him.
PFF had him as the 77th graded wide out with a -2.0, but that grade is a bit misleading. He only had one negatively graded game on the entire season, week 15 against the Packers. You remember the offensive pass interference game don't you? Those 3 OPIs led to a -3.9 overall grade for that week, and if we can forget that game ever happened (like I'm sure Jeffery would like to), his grade in the other games was a +1.9, which would have moved him up 14 spots.
Earl Bennett - Signed through 2015 - For the 3rd consecutive year, Bennett has had some injuries that prevented him from appearing in all 16 games. If healthy, he's another trusted pass catcher for Jay Cutler. He's willing to go over the middle, and he's shown the ability to bring down the tough catch. I think he would a great fit for the WCO.
In '12 PFF had him graded way down at 64, with a neutral +1.0. The last couple seasons Bennett has struggled with finding a consistent role in the offense. My guess is that's due to a few injuries, and if you remember it was just a couple years ago when Bennett graded out as the 18th best WR and didn't have a single drop.
Devin Hester - Signed through 2013 - Before we go any further, I'll address the much talked about 2013 cap hit on Devin Hester. The last two years his number was over $7.5 million each season, but in '13 it'll only be about $2.8 million, with a base salary of around $1.8 million. Not an ideal number to release him with, but it's a number they could absorb. But should they?
Say what you will about his lack of a return touchdown, but teams still game planned to kick away from him every week. Devin Hester was still impacting the game.
Do you think an offensive minded head coach would be able to come up with a "Hester Package" that actually worked? I would love to see what Trestman could come up with for Hester. As a #4 or #5 receiver, with a few snaps here or there in relief of the top three, I think he could be effective.
Under Ron Turner's WCO, Hester put up 51, then 57 receptions in 2008 and 2009. He also had his highest PFF graded season under Turner in 2009, with an overall neutral grade of -0.7, and a +3.5 in the passing game. In 2012, Hester was the lowest graded Bears WR at -7.0, so is he regressing as a receiver, or will a scheme change revitalize him? Personally I don't think his salary is too much to keep him around.
Joe Anderson - Signed through 2013 - Anderson had a little time on the game day roster in 2012, and he showed up in the special teams. In week 15 had had two tackles, and in week 17 he had one. Pro Football Focus gave him a neutral +1.0 for those two games. Anderson will have an opportunity to show up on special teams during camps, and with the new coaching regime, he'll try to shine as a receiver.
Eric Weems - Signed through 2014 - Weems was signed for his special teams prowess, and that's probably what will keep him around in 2013. He had 7 tackles, and a +1.5 PFF special teams grade. On offense he only had 2 catches for the season, but he was graded on 131 wide out snaps, and he scored a neutral 0.8. PFF also had him graded favorably as a blocker in the run game, giving him a +1.3. Weems has a base salary of a million dollars for 2013, so if a guy like Joe Anderson proves he can be that wide out special teamer, the Bears could cut ties with Weems.
Johnny Knox - Signed through 2013 - Johnny Knox was set to become a free agent this year, but since he was on the physically unable to perform list all season long, the Bears will retain his rights for another year. If he's healthy, he brings value to the team as a kick returner, and as a guy that can take the top off a defense.
Dale Moss - Signed through 2014 - At 6'4" 213, Moss was a two sport athlete at South Dakota State, playing both football and basketball, where averaged about 25 minutes per game as a senior guard. His outstanding pro day got him noticed by NFL scouts, with a 41.5' vertical jump, a 10' 10" broad jump, and a 4.45 in the 40. The Bears are the third practice squad he's spent time on, so we'll wait and see how he progresses in camp.
Brittan Golden - Signed through 2014 - Golden had three catches in preseason with the Bears, but was waived in August. He spent a little time on the Jags practice squad at the end of the season before being waived by them, and now he signed a reserve/future contract to ensure his place at mini camp this off season.
Terrence Toliver - Signed through 2014 - Toliver, late of the Detroit Lions, is another big bodied (6'5" 206) wide out that will add some competition to camp. He spent some time in the UFL, so it's not like he was inactive all of 2012.
2013 OUTLOOK - With 10 WRs currently signed for the 2013 season, I'm not sure how much they'll be willing to invest in more prospects. I suppose if a very talented guy, high on their draft board, falls in Phil Emery's lap, he could pull the trigger, but I'd rather the Bears focus on a few other positions in the draft.
One thing to keep in mind about the traditional WCO, and not the CFL version that Trestman used in Montreal, is that it doesn't use a lot of four and five WR sets. It would surprise me to see the Bears bring six WRs to the final 53 man roster, and even five may be a stretch.