This is part four of an eight part series that takes a look at the Chicago Bears, and what work needs to be done for the team to improve upon its 8-8 record in 2013. It will examine each and every aspect of the team, from defensive line to wide receivers, to find out what they can do to keep up with the powerhouses forming in the NFC. Each week, a new article will be released, focusing on a different area of the team. This is Part IV: Wide Receivers.
For the Chicago Bears, the wide receiver position is probably the one of least concern going into the 2014 season. With two Pro-Bowl receivers in 2013, it seems clear that the receiving core in Chicago is pretty solid.
That being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The mark of a great team is that every position is looked at and analyzed during the off-season, not just the areas the team seemingly needs the most help in. With that in mind, there are still some things that the Bears can do to improve their already solid receiving core.
1) Despite the price, keep Earl Bennett around for the 2014 season. Yes, Earl Bennett has taken a back seat to some of the other emerging stars at the wide receiver position in Chicago. Even so, Bennett should remain a member of the organization next season.
Bennett is due to count for $2.45 million in 2014 against the cap, with only $100,000 of that coming in the form of a signing bonus. As fate would have it, none of that money is guaranteed to Bennett, meaning that if the team cut him today, he would count for exactly $0 against the cap this upcoming season.
Sounds enticing, huh? Not so fast.
Bennett has been a member of the Chicago Bears since he was drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2008. Yes, the very same Vanderbilt team that Jay Cutler played on when he was in college. Bennett also has the added benefit of having been with Cutler through every offensive coordinator and scheme change over the last five years in Chicago. He and Cutler are personal friends. All of this is good news for the Bears.
Having a receiver who the quarterback is used to is crucial in the NFL. Even if Bennett isn't the best or most talented guy on the roster, he is a solid player coming off the bench to help Cutler and his team when called upon. Also, because his contract is incentive based and he isn't guaranteed any money, it's likely he won't get the full $2.45 million that he is slotted to get.
Finally, Bennett missed the final game of the season in 2013. This was an important game against the Packers, and many fans simply couldn't understand Bennett missing such a crucial moment in the season for his team. As it turns out, Bennett missed the game due to the death of his older brother, Prentice. This should have absolutely no effect on the roster status of Bennett, and people can stop speculating why Bennett missed Week 17 for something listed officially as just "not football related."
2) Develop second-year receiver Marquees Wilson. This one is already in progress. Wilson, after finishing the 2013 season with just two receptions for 13 yards, has taken it upon himself to improve his game and come back from winter stronger than ever.
The sophomore has been down in Florida this off-season, training with Pro-Bowl receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The hope for Wilson is that he can make the kind of sophomore-year progress that Jeffery made last season.
The Chicago Bears have documented the workouts of the three receivers, and you can take a look inside the workout room here.
It's no secret that Wilson has a lot of work to do to catch up with the likes of Marshall and Jeffery. But with Cutler finally settled into an offense, and a head coach who calls the plays and works with his offense on a daily basis, Wilson may have a chance at pulling this thing off.
Don't get too excited, Bears fans. Just be sure you keep an eye out for the name Marquees Wilson during training camp this year. Jeffery was the guy who "looked great in camp" last season, and we all know the kind of leap he made in just one off-season with Marshall.
3) Use Martellus Bennett to their advantage. At 6'6'' and 265 pounds, Martellus Bennett is one of the biggest men on the field for the Bears on offense. That size is what made him so attractive to the Bears, and why he was the first free agent the team signed once they were able to last year.
Bennett can block. Everybody knows that his size is more than helpful on the offensive line, and that he can perform in the trenches when called upon. Going forward, however, the Bears have to find a way to get Bennett the ball across the middle of the field more often.
In his first two games with the Bears, Bennett caught 10 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
In the following 14 games, he had just three more touchdown catches, making his total for the season five.
Bennett is a big target across the middle of the field, and he draws defenders away from Matt Forte on dump-off passes when everything else is covered. The team recognized the importance of having a versatile tight end, which is why they signed Bennett in the first place.
Now, they just have to figure out how to keep him involved in the offense, and not turn him into the next Evan Rodriguez.
4) Draft a tight end to play behind Martellus Bennett. Nobody is invincible. As good as Bennett is, the Bears will still want a young player behind him just in case something goes wrong. In addition to being a safety net, a young prospect at tight end also increases productivity for the offense, especially with the offensive focus the Bears have right now.
A guy to keep in mind on draft day is C.J. Fiedorowicz, a tight end out of the University of Iowa.
In 2013, Fiedorowicz had 30 receptions for 299 yards and six touchdowns. At 6'5'' and 262 pounds, he's not much smaller than Bennett is right now, and he could provide help both blocking with his size and catching passes in the open field.
If Fiedorowicz is available in the 3rd round, and the team drafts a defensive player with their first two picks, don't be surprised if Phil Emery pulls the trigger on this one.
That's it for this week's edition of Fixing the Chicago Bears. Be sure to look for next week's edition, when I examine the offensive line in Chicago and what improvements need to be made. As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@AlexCrowe38) and our new team-specific account (@spot_bears) for all the latest updates on the Chicago Bears.