2015 Grades: Injuries plague Bears receivers all season long


2015 Grades: Injuries plague Bears receivers all season long

Evaluating the Bears’ receiver group becomes nearly impossible – hence the “incomplete” – with the constant stream of injuries, beginning with Kevin White’s stress fracture in the offseason and continuing with Alshon Jeffery missing games with myriad injuries before going on IR, and Eddie Royal breaking down and missing seven entire games. Even No. 4 receiver Marquess Wilson was on IR with a season-ending foot injury suffered in the San Francisco game.

Emblematic of the problems at receiver: Jeffery led the Bears with 54 receptions, followed by Martellus Bennett with 53. Bennett preceded Jeffery onto IR and was a significant loss, mitigated by the emergence of Zach Miller at tight end, but even Miller was down with injury for game 16. Tight end becomes a question area given the uncertain status of Bennett and his attitude.

[MORE BEARS GRADES: Running backs ¦ Secondary]

“I think when you look at the guys who have gone down, they were the guys that were getting so many of the reps,” said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “And then you take them off the field and now you’re putting in guys that are almost starting over a little bit.

“And we try to keep guys caught up but when you start going plays off of plays and then all of the sudden you get a new guy in there and he’s like, ‘well, I’ve never done that before,’ you almost have to start from the beginning every once in a while and get these guys caught up and then get them on the same page with the quarterback because he hasn’t had reps with them. So it does hurt you a little bit as far as how advanced you can get.”

As coach John Fox said of the overall, the Detroit game was “a microcosm of our season.” The wide receivers provided precisely that kind of game. Josh Bellamy failed to catch a key third-down pass on a back-shoulder throw in the quarter, letting the ball go right through his hands in another missed opportunity for Bellamy with the front-line receivers down. But he fought through tight coverage from Detroit rookie cornerback Quandre Diggs to haul in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the third quarter.

Cameron Meredith showed his inexperience on the Bears’ first possession when he was unable to at least break up a slightly underthrown pass in the end zone, resulting in an interception off the deflection.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

If there was a positive to emerge from the chaos at wide receiver it was the play of Marc Mariani, who finished with a modest 22 receptions, including a team-leading 6 for 80 yards in the Detroit game. Mariani projects to have an expanded role as a nickel/slot receiver with Royal, in part because the quarterback trusts him.

“He’s always been that guy,” Jay Cutler said. "He’s always the guy who is going to work extremely hard. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be. I think now he’s just getting more attempts because our numbers have dwindled so out of necessity he’s been out there a lot more and he’s become a viable option for us.”

Moon's WR Grade: Incomplete

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

There's a lot of optimism about the Chicago Bears in 2018  because of the incredible offseason had by GM Ryan Pace. It started in free agency with several big-name additions on offense and continued in the NFL Draft with the selection of Roquan Smith, arguably the top all-around defender in the class.

Pace now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's entering a season with actual expectations. While those expectations vary, one thing is consistent: Improvement is expected.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago should end up challenging for a playoff spot.

No less than five additions on offense this offseason could make key impacts for the Bears, including wide receiver Allen Robinson who was one of the NFL’s best in 2015 before a down year in 2016 and essentially missing all of 2017 through injury. He’s joined at the position by Taylor Gabriel, who had three touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2016 and rookie Anthony Miller, who was tied for fourth among wide receivers in this draft class with 19 missed tackles forced on receptions. Add in tight end Trey Burton, who had three touchdowns from just 16 targets when lined up in the slot and rookie offensive lineman James Daniels from Iowa and it’s easy to see why this offense led by Mitchell Trubisky has the potential to trend upwards big time in 2018.

The Bears were one of five teams PFF listed as a surprise wildcard candidate. The road to the post-season will be challenging, however. Not only do all of the new pieces have to gel, but they have to do it while playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.

The NFC North could have three teams -- not including the Bears --  playing in January. The Vikings may be the most talented club in the NFC and the Packers will always be a contender with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions have some vulnerability, but they've had more success than Chicago in recent seasons.

Still, Pace deserves credit for winning the offseason.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.