When the Chicago Bears fired former head coach Lovie Smith after a nine-win season, it was instantly clear that the Bears wanted to move in a completely different direction than Smith was taking them in. Smith wasn’t a bad head coach by any means, but he was a defensive head coach in an increasingly offensive inclined league. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Bears decided to sign a head coach who had over 20 years of experience coaching on the offensive side of the ball in various roles with various clubs.
Marc Trestman wasn’t so much the surprise hire of the off-season, but he was definitely the most unorthodox addition that any club made. Trestman has already spoken about placing more of the franchise’s focus on the quarterback position, which in turn will put more pressure on the wide receivers working with Jay Cutler. Last season, Brandon Marshall had an All-Pro year notching over 1,500 yards, 118 receptions and 11 touchdowns. However, the next most productive receiving option for Cutler was running-back Matt Forte, who finished the year with 44 receptions, 340 yards and one touchdown. The Bears’ next three receivers combined didn’t come close to Marshall’s total yardage or touchdowns.
That type of production won’t fit with the Bears’ new regime. Along with Trestman, Aaron Kromer has arrived to be the team’s offensive coordinator. Kromer has been the offensive line coach with the New Orleans Saints for the past few years, an offense that has been much more expansive than the Bears’ was last season. Last year the Bears used at least three wide receivers on 40 percent of their snaps, whereas the Saints used more than two receivers on over 48 percent of their snaps. Presuming that Kromer looks to run a system similar to the one he has been working in for the past few seasons, then the Bears can’t solely rely on Marshall and will need to encourage Cutler to spread the ball around more.
The logical conclusion would be that the Bears need to add new receivers to play with Marshall, but the reality is they just need to focus on the receivers already on the roster. Marshall can stay in his current role, as the primary receiving option, but Alshon Jeffery will need to play an even bigger role on the outside across from him. Jeffery has the physical size and speed, but needs to continue to develop as an all-around receiver. He showed some promise as a rookie finishing the year with 24 receptions, 367 yards and three touchdowns. Jeffery’s physical talent makes him a mismatch on every single snap, but being a young, raw receiver means that he is not a threat running every single route or in every single situation.
With Jeffery and Marshall outside the numbers, the Bears will also need a consistent possession receiver working inside. Earl Bennett has long promised to be that receiver, but has yet to put together the consistency his career needs. Bennett did flourish during his second year in the league, 2009, when he notched 54 receptions, 717 yards and two touchdowns in 15 starts. Bennett had a similar season in 2010, but wasn’t a starter so his production fell slightly. Since then he has filled a bit-part role as his development was curtailed because of a lack of opportunities and his inability to seize the few opportunities he was given.
Presuming that Trestman will bring in a better quality of offensive coach, there is talent available at the wide receiver position for him to craft into a respectable receiving corps. Already having a leading star like Marshall means that their job is made easier developing the other receivers, because Marshall will draw most of the coverage. Also, both of the two primary players who the coaching staff will want to develop are still relatively young. Jeffery is just 22, while Earl Bennett is only 25, even though he has been in the league for five years.
If Trestman has the right coaches working with these players, and if he can change Cutler’s attitude that makes him force the ball to his primary receiver at times, then the Bears have no need to make a big splash in free agency to improve the quarterback’s receiving options.