These four former NFL wide receivers all have two things in common. First, each was part of the receiving corps that made up "The Greatest Show on Turf," the late-1990s-and-early-2000s St. Louis Rams offense built and guided by Mike Martz. Second, each is 6-0 or shorter.
From 1999-2001, these four receivers formed the nucleus of the only team in NFL history to score 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons. The Rams earned two trips to the Super Bowl during that span. Martz had created a monster, yet none of his four wideouts were physically imposing in the least.
In 2006, Martz was hired as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. He had two big receivers to work with: Roy E. Williams (6-3, 215) and Mike Williams (6-5, 241). Yet the top pass catcher for the Lions that year was Mike Furrey (6-0, 195) who caught 98 passes for 1,086 yards – he had caught just one pass the previous two seasons combined.
The following year, Detroit drafted arguably the most physically dominant receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236). Yet in 2007, both Megatron and Williams caught fewer passes than Shaun McDonald (5-10, 183), with Johnson catching 13 fewer balls than Furrey as well.
Martz moved to San Francisco in 2008 and inherited starting wideouts Bryant Johnson (6-3, 211) and Arnaz Battle (6-1, 208). Yet the leading receiver that year was the aging Isaac Bruce, who had been signed to mentor the younger players for that season.
As you might have guessed, Martz doesn't have much use for bigger, taller receivers in his high-octane offense.
WR Calvin Johnson
"Size doesn't make any difference," Martz recently told the Associated Press. "It makes absolutely no difference. With Matt (Forte) as a runner and our ability to run the ball, we get a lot of one-on-one coverage, and you have to have receivers that can beat corners one on one. And generally, the guys that can change direction and run fast – those are the kinds of guys that you're looking for. If he's a big guy that can do all that, that's a rare find. A lot of times, those guys are more 5-10 guys."
Yet media, fans and analysts alike have been clamoring for the Chicago Bears to sign a taller receiver this offseason. Many feel a big pass catcher is the missing piece to the team's offensive puzzle. One has to wonder though, with Martz at the helm, what puzzle are they trying to finish? Martz's creations before his time in Chicago disregarded receivers with size, so why would anyone think it will be different with the Bears?
The top three pass catchers on Chicago's current roster are Johnny Knox (6-0, 185), Earl Bennett (6-0, 204) and Devin Hester (5-11, 190). All three have the typical body type for a Martz receiver. Hester and Knox have blazing speed, while Bennett is great at working the underneath routes from the slot. As a group, their performance in 2010 was underwhelming, but that can easily be chalked up to the growing pains involved in digesting Martz's offense. It's not crazy to assume the three of them will be able to improve on their numbers from last year, now that they are more comfortable with their coordinator's complicated system.
So if Martz has no use for a big wide receiver in his offense, why break the bank in free agency to sign such a player?
There are two counterpoints to this argument. First, some will point out that the success of both Furrey and McDonalad in Detroit was due to opposing defenses being forced to roll coverage in the direction of Megatron and Williams. This opened up the underneath routes, where smaller guys make a living. If the Bears were to bring in a big player who commands attention deep, it could make things easier for Bennett and Hester to produce in the middle of the field.
Second, in both St. Louis and Detroit, the teams played their home games on turf in a dome. The field was always perfect, as was the weather. That is not the case in Chicago, where the Soldier Field sod typically begins to crumble into disrepair by midseason due to the inclement weather. Smaller players can't make the same types of cuts on torn up grass as they could on carpet, thus minimizing the value of such speedy players late in the season. A bigger receiver wouldn't rely on footing as much and could use his size to outmuscle defensive backs forced to deal with the same turf.
Sidney Rice (6-4, 202), Mike Sims-Walker (6-2, 214), Braylan Edwards (6-3, 214) and Malcom Floyd (6-5, 225) will all be unrestricted free agents once the lockout is lifted. Would it make sense to sign one of these players to a large contract if they are going to do nothing more than serve as a decoy and an occasional jump-ball target? In order for any of them to succeed in Chicago, Martz would have to alter his game plan around their talents. If the past is any indication, that most likely won't happen.
Hester recently lobbied through the media for the Bears to sign free agent receiver Santana Moss (5-10, 209), which many folks see as redundant considering his body type compared to the players currently on the roster. Yet Moss posted career-best numbers in Washington last year (93 receptions, 1,115 yards and six TDs) catching passes from over-the-hill Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman. It's possible he could end up with similar numbers in Chicago, with a more-talented quarterback slinging balls his way.
As we were all made aware when the team selected third-string quarterback Nathan Enderle in the fifth round of this year's draft, Martz has a ton of influence when it comes to the personnel of the Bears' offense. As such, when the free agency period finally comes, those of you expecting the team to sign a big wideout may be thoroughly disappointed. Yet if the passing game gels in its second year under Martz, you'll quickly forget you ever clamored for a taller receiver.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com. To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider.