Just over a year ago, new Bears' General Manager Phil Emery make a huge move on the first day of free agency by acquiring Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for two third-round picks. It was a coup for the Bears, and Marshall didn't disappoint in his first season in Chicago. He broke single season team records for catches (118) and receiving yards (1,508) and was the only constant productive player on a hit-and-miss Bears' offense.
But Marshall's impact on the Bears' thus far goes much further than simply being Jay Cutler's BFF. Listening to the press conference introducing new Bears' Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett, Bennett talked about the impact Marshall has had on him despite them never playing on the same team before.
"He's a guy I look up to for the way he plays and the type of person that he is. So I've been talking to him for a couple of years. I've been in the league for six years. I've probably been talking to Brandon for about four years. He's been a good person to have in my life on and off the field. After I heard I was getting a chance to play with him, I felt like he's the guy who always wants to win, is a champion. Those kinds of guys help you get better. So he expressed his need to want to get better. I think he's gonna help me take my game to another level, which is a reason why I came here."
Remember that one year ago there were questions about Marshall's involvement in a possible assault, and his acknowledgement that his diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) was an ongoing battle that he was undergoing treatment for. And here he is being lauded by Bennett, who Marshall had never played with previously, for setting a proper example and being a sage-like guide on how to improve himself on and off the field. Obviously Marshall's place on the Bears' roster had a positive effect on Bennett considering whether or not to join up with Chicago.
That kind of leadership is something the Bears have lacked offensively for quite some time. On defense, you have had veterans willing to speak their mind and/or set an example, including: Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris, Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, and down the roster and back in time to Hunter Hillenmeyer. On offense, its a different story. The offensive lineman have Roberto Garza (and Olin Kreutz before him) to look up to, but that's pretty much it. Matt Forte is a quiet guy (unless he's unhappy with his contract) and hard worker, but not a leader. The rest of the skill position players on offense... Earl Bennett? Devin Hester? Matt Spaeth? No, no, no. That leaves one other guy, and let's just say he does things in his own special way.
Marshall so far has filled the leadership void on offense in about any way possible. He works his butt off in the offseason to be in the best shape possible; you never hear about him slacking off or alligator-arming a throw over the middle. He's a willing blocker and doesn't takes his complaints public if he's not seeing a ton of passes his way. He's supportive of his teammates and coaches, but not afraid to demand more from everyone. He's taken young guys like Evan Rodriguez and Alshon Jeffrey under his considerable wings; inviting them (and the "Black Unicorn") to work out with Marshall this offseason.
Said Marshall about Jeffrey:
"If he just changes some little things, the way he approaches the game as far as physically and mentally, he's going to be a beast... but just getting him with the right people, nutritionists, trainer, chiropractors and all that stuff. (It's about) showing him the other side of the business, showing him it's not just about coming to work and going on the field."
A year ago Bears' fan were ecstatic about the addition of Marshall, but few of us would have thought things would have worked out so well in such a short amount of time. His presence gives the Bears' leadership on offense, which means "Jay being Jay" hasn't blown up into a Jeff George situation. Yes, Marshall didn't help Chicago get to the Super Bowl (yet), or even the playoffs, but he has finally given the Bears a chance from a player-driven prospective to be viewed as an enticing place for offensive players to join, develop, and play at a high level. As opposed to the old view summed up by Muhsin Muhammad: "Chicago is where receivers go to die."