As apart of an ongoing series, Taking Inventory aims to assess every position set on the Bears, taking a peek at the previous season and provide a sneak peek into projections for the certain group. For day three, we take a gander at the wide receiver crew.
Rookie quarterbacks generally come remarkably difficult to gameplan with. Rarely does one come into the league polished and sharp enough to keep up with the massive leap of college to NFL. The inexperience almost always bites off a heavy chunk of the playbook in lieu of gradually acclimating him to the speed of the league, which effectively puts coaches and offenses in quite the bind.
Because of this, offenses expect at least one player, whether a tight end or a receiver, to be a sort of reliable safety valve in the passing game for the rookie quarterback. In order to lessen the impact of mistakes and allow room for growing pains, the receiver or tight end needs to be a sturdy star who the quarterback can turn to when in a jam. A pass catcher for a rookie quarterback really has an integral responsibility in the development of the quarterback.
A daunting learning curve faces rookie quarterbacks and they will always require some buffing before being viable franchise players. This was the case with the UNC product Mitchell Trubisky for the Bears. With only thirteen college games under his ledger, Ryan Pace drafted for the skill set rather than a Day One starter. And while his rookie year itself had its up and downs, a blaring red flag reared its ugly head virtually every game.
Trubisky had absolutely nobody to throw to.
It seems unfair to pin the offensive ineptness purely on the rookie under center, especially factoring in the tedious playbook and heavy reliance on an inconsistent run game, so a ton of the blame falls on the receivers who simply couldn’t step up for him. The argument could go both ways, whether the receiver makes the quarterback or vice versa but in this case, a rookie, particularly one as green as Trubisky, can’t manufacture receiver productions yet.
A top-tier NFL quarterback can find a way to create a passing game from practically nothing. Tom Brady won two of his five Super Bowls without a 900-yard receiver, winning with Chris Hogans and David Pattens. Out of the thirty players, Aaron Rodgers has thrown touchdowns to, only four of them have more than thirty touchdowns. The Bears receiving corps could theoretically have served their purpose with a legend under center.
But they didn’t. They had a crude rookie under center and a run-dependent coach who won’t be able to squeeze every last drop of talent out of them like a Patriots system could. And it showed.
DeShone Kizer and Jacoby Brissett both single-handedly had more passing yards than the Bears total passing yards, which includes the production from both Mike Glennon, Trubisky, and the odd trick play. Not a single receiver ended the year remotely close to 1,000 yards, heck not a single receiver ended the year remotely close to 700 yards.
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Only Kendall Wright (the leading receiver with 614 yards) passed the 400-yard mark. The second leading receiver? Rookie runningback Tarik Cohen with 353 yards. No receiver brought in more than one touchdown and Adam Shaheen, a tight end with twelve receptions, led the team in receiving touchdowns with three. Historically, Earl Bennett and Dez White would have been superior options to the Bears current receivers.
Now the Bears never defined themselves with a great pass game. Chicago historically cements the run game for the majority of the offense and utilized a sturdy pass game to dig themselves out of ruts. However as the league entered a goo-goo eyed passing era, this changed in the early 2010s with the Jay Cutler era but eventually flamed out after gems of the offense Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery skipped town.
The past couple of seasons, the Bears seem to turn back on this mentality, forcing the run down defense’s throats. As an attempt to allow Trubisky to get his feet wet in the league and not throw him right into the fire so early, the run-centric style dominated the playbook. Technically this could explain such historically low receiving numbers but not having more than two receivers cross 400 yards can’t be excused, even in a run-heavy offense.
But now it appears the Bears look to inadvertently attempt to reinvent the same flare of the Marshall-Jeffery tandem through the combined force of the draft free agency while home cooking a star quarterback rather than the Denver Broncos hand-me-down Cutler to build around. Though that strategy requires, well, receivers. So in order to prep the offense for a Trubisky breakout season, Pace made it a mission to bolster the receiver corps as much as money and logic would allow.
He made a bang early in free agency with former Pro Bowl Jaguar Allen Robinson. Though a couple seasons since his 1400 yard campaign in 2015 and coming off a torn ACL, Robinson will easily the best receiver in a Bears jersey since Alshon Jeffery if healthy. Pace also nabbed the speedster, Taylor Gabriel. Gabriel has never topped 700 yards in his career but blazing 4.2 speed next to Cohen gives the offense unmatched speed to toy around with.
Addressing the need early as the second round in this years draft, Pace traded up to grab Memphis receiver, Anthony Miller. The most precise route runner in this draft, the feisty pass catcher immediately brings a competitive edge and work ethic to the locker room. Though drops were a slight issue in college, an accurate passer like Trubisky should clean him up in the pros.
Even the ill-fated Kevin White looks to get back into the action. The former seventh overall has notoriously struggled to shamble a career together after three consecutive season-ending injuries but as of right now, remains off the IR and has been receiving numerous praises from coaches and fellow players alike. While only OTA courtesies, any positivity directed towards White has to be considered encouraging.
The Bears went from nearly barren in the receiver cupboard to a pleasantly deep and talented group in only a single offseason. In order to prompt the breakout season the Bears need from Trubisky to claw back to relevance, Pace recognized the void and filled it brilliantly and wholly. After a few seasons of dismal offensive seasons, this season aims to patch the passing woes and properly welcome the franchise to the modern NFL.