You’d be hard pressed to find any consistent positives to build on with the currently 1-5 Chicago Bears. Chicago is one of the very worst teams in the NFL and largely has no identity on offense or defense. This is particularly true when discussing the league’s sixth best offense in yardage but 31st in scoring offense.
However, in the darkness, an occasional bright spot can gleam out of nowhere and catch your eye.
Following the broken leg second-year receiver Kevin White suffered against the Detroit Lions approximately two weeks ago, no one could have expected the success, instinct, and explosiveness a fellow sophomore wideout would display.
That man is Cameron Meredith of all people, someone whose making the most of his greater opportunities right now and is helping to shed a light on an otherwise depressing attack. 243 receiving yards, 20 receptions, and a touchdown on just 27 targets (the epitome of efficiency) in back-to-back games will open anyone’s eyes. Those targets and receptions also leads the NFL in the same two game span.
When someone like Meredith starts to string quality games together, it’s not a fluke.
You can indeed start to call that player a building block without looking both ways for dissent. It’ll even help mitigate and forget a high draft pick’s injury like White’s- well, to an extent.
While it’s been mentioned before, it’s easy to forget that this hasn’t been Meredith’s first shot at a larger role in Chicago’s offense. With several receivers nursing injuries last year, a rookie Meredith played well in spot duty, particularly against the Kansas City Chiefs where he made several crucial catches (four receptions for 52 yards) to help the Bears come away with a stunning late upset.
After that game though, Meredith was phased out of Chicago’s offense through the rest of the season as guys healed up, making just four combined catches in the last 11 games of the year. The former college quarterback shined when placed in position to succeed, but no one could predict if he would stick on the roster in the offseason to last long enough until now.
With Alshon Jeffery, White, a healthy Eddie Royal, Deonte Thompson, Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, and Marc Mariani in stable, the competition for Meredith to lock himself in was steep. When deciding to keep receivers on a roster in final training camp cuts, the player is either a primary playmaker in the passing game such as Jeffery, or they make a significant impact on special teams such as Bellamy. If you have both abilities, like say, Royal, even better.
But it’s rare to keep around a guy who doesn’t seem to fit in either classification.
Evidently enough, Meredith had nothing to worry about, as he cut his own niche out with Chicago keeping six receivers at camp close. Now, the decision and foresight to let his career in Chicago looks like a rare roll of the dice that’s gone snake eyes for general manager Ryan Pace and the Bears’ scouting department.
What has made Meredith stand out amongst the Bears’ overall ineptitude is how he’s produced and made plays.
Not just including his past two blistering starts, of his overall 26 receptions for 295 yards, Meredith has proven to be a dangerous threat after the catch. A fourth of his yards when targeted have come with him making plays and breaking a multitude of tackles in the open field. You saw it against the Indianapolis Colts on a 30-yard catch and run and against the Jacksonville Jaguars where Meredith caught a short screen and weaved his way through defenders for a 36-yard gain.
The former play is on display here.
He’s shown an elusiveness and awareness just the most special of receivers possess.
What’s really important to note here is that Meredith has done this while being ignored for the first two weeks of the season and only being targeted eight total times against the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. Other receivers above him, with stars such as Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, AJ Green, Jarvis Landry, etc. have all been thrown to at least 50 times, and in some cases, 60.
If Meredith received the same output- almost more than double- to match these gentlemen, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume he’d break a few more big plays to get much higher at their 170-200 plus yards after the catch plateau from his current 75. As a note, running backs and tight ends on the list are viewed differently here after receptions because of their size and physicality.
Receivers are judged by how they can get initial separation from their defender. Possession guys will typically rely on their size and body frame to post away from defensive backs. But the more valuable wideout is the player who has a suddenness to his running that can shake a corner right at the line of scrimmage or mid-route at the top of his stem. Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators value both, inherently, but there’s a measure of comfort to the latter.
The cherry on top is when that receiver can also make a play on the ball in the air in succession.
Meredith has all of these facets down pat.
Watch Meredith set up Colts corner Patrick Robinson inside-out, break his ankles, then go over the top using his 6’3 frame to score his first career touchdown. Rest assured, you can only “teach” that so much. And he’s done this consistently.
It’s also heartening to see Meredith show confidence when leaned upon and have the ability to learn from mistakes.
After a late fourth quarter fumble against the Colts with the Bears down and needing a score, Meredith fumbled after making a catch while trying to break a tackle.
Instead of folding in mentally and dwelling on his crucial mistake, the Bears went right back to him on the next and final possession for a 13-yard gain on the first play. He obviously didn’t disappoint. A necessary and important sign of growth for a young player.
Not everything’s going to go well for you at all times. Your team and you individually will make mistakes, it’s an inevitability. It’s just about minimizing said failures and staying consistent with a short memory. That’s the modus operandi for Meredith right now and the Bears as a whole.
There’s no doubt that Meredith is a legitimate talent. In what is likely turning into a season that will lead the Bears to a top five pick in next year’s draft, he’s a ray of hope. Continue to get the ball to him in space and otherwise, and let the play flourish as he learns.
The rest of the 2016 season for the Bears is about developing players like Meredith for the future.
Don’t ‘neuralyze’ yourself and forget this year completely in ‘Men In Black’ fashion. You’ll want to remember Meredith’s rise in more than making up for at least some of Chicago’s disappointing results.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.