The following is the third of nine position previews in advance of training camp.*
Just like running back Matt Forte, Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will report to training camp next week looking to build on a record-breaking 2013 season.
Last year Jeffery (1,421) and Marshall (1,295) became the first Bears receivers to each top 1,100 yards in a season. In combining for 2,716 yards, they finished just two yards behind the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for the most by two teammates in the NFL.
Marshall and Jeffery became the first receivers in Bears history to both be selected to the Pro Bowl in the same year. A total of only two Bears receivers had been voted to the all-star game over the previous 41 seasons—Marty Booker in 2002 and Marshall in 2012.
|Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combined in for 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013.|
"I know we want to be the best," Jeffery said. "Every year we want to be the greatest receiving corps in the league, not just me and Brandon but we want the other guys to come along, too, with Martellus [Bennett], Matt Forte, everybody, the whole offense. It's not us; it's the whole team."
Marshall ranked fifth in the NFL with 100 receptions and caught a team-high 12 touchdown passes last year, the most by a Bears player since Curtis Conway also had 12 in 1995.
After setting Bears records and career highs with 118 receptions and 1,508 yards in 2012, Marshall became the franchise's first player with multiple 100-catch seasons. In two years in Chicago, he ranks second in the NFL with 218 receptions, fourth with 2,803 yards and fifth with 23 TDs.
A few days after signing a three-year contract extension in May, Marshall acknowledged that the trade that sent him from the Dolphins to the Bears in 2012 was "life-saving and career-saving."
"The transformation started in my life before I was traded here," Marshall said. "But I think it was career-saving. I don't think I'd be sitting in this position talking about an extension. I probably wouldn't even be having the success that I was having on the field in that environment [in Miami]."
After catching 24 passes for 367 yards and three TDs in 10 games as a rookie in 2012, Jeffery had a breakout 2013 season. He ranked sixth in the NFL among receivers with 1,421 yards, the second most in franchise history, and was 10th with 89 receptions, the sixth most ever by a Bears player.
Jeffery recorded the two most prolific receiving games in Bears history in 2013 with 249 yards against the Vikings and 218 yards versus the Saints. The previous single-game record of 214 yards by Harlon Hill had stood since 1954. In the process, Jeffery became one of only eight players in NFL history to produce two 200-yard games in the same season.
The leading candidate to replace Earl Bennett as the Bears' No. 3 receiver is Marquess Wilson, a promising 2013 seventh-round draft pick who performed well throughout the offseason program.
The 6-4, 184-pounder has gained the confidence of his veteran teammates and added muscle mass during the offseason while working out with Marshall and Jeffery at Marshall's fitness facility in Florida. But as the offseason program ended, coach Marc Trestman wasn't ready to anoint Wilson.
"Marquess has been steady," Trestman said. "There's been a lot of talk, a lot of buzz about Marquess. He's competing and he's made his mistakes too. But he's had a good, solid OTAs and a good solid minicamp. He's a very smart guy. He has great demeanor.
"Certainly I think Jay [Cutler] feels comfortable with him out there. They communicate well together, and we're excited. But we're going to wait and see. We're not going to be easy on guys when they get these opportunities. They don't want to be anointed and I certainly don't want to anoint them. They've got to earn it."
Other receivers who will push for backup positions include Josh Bellamy, Armanti Edwards, Micheal Spurlock, Terrence Toliver, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Several of those players will also compete for the punt and kickoff return jobs.