Bears getting the band back together

There is finally a legit No. 1 receiver in Chicago, as Brandon Marshall has reconnected with Jay Cutler. As a result, the Bears have become a popular pick to make some noise in a loaded NFC.

I'm envisioning Jay Cutler sitting in new Bears general manager Phil Emery's dining room one day during the offseason, Emery's wife and children not quite sure why he's there, with the rifle-armed quarterback wiping his mouth with a napkin and then uttering the following: "If you say no, Matt Forte and I will come here for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week."

"OK, OK," Emery finally says. "I'll trade for Brandon Marshall. You got me."

Emery did just that Mar. 14, getting Marshall from the Dolphins for no more than third-round selections in this year's and next year's NFL Draft.

Marshall is one of the few legitimate No. 1 wide receivers in the league these days, as the 6-4, 230-pounder has averaged 95 catches for 1,188 yards and more than six touchdowns per season since the 2007 campaign. Even with Matt Moore, Chad Henne, J.P. Losman, Chad Pennington and Tyler Thigpen under center during his two-year stint in Miami, the former UCF Knight registered over 80 receptions and cracked the 1,000-yard plateau both times.

But it was his four-year run as a member of the Broncos that put Marshall on the map, due in large part to the instant kinship he developed with Cutler. Following a 20-catch rookie season as a fourth-round pick in 2006, when Cutler -- himself a first-year pro at the time -- ultimately wrestled the starting job away from veteran Jake Plummer, the Pittsburgh native proved to be borderline unstoppable. He reeled in 307 passes for 3,710 yards and 23 TDs from 2007-09, with Cutler earning his lone Pro Bowl nod in '08 and Marshall getting invited to Hawaii in '08 and '09.

Now Cutler and Marshall hope to recreate in Chicago the level of production they had in Denver, and the unspoken language the two of them apparently speak is evident at Bears camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.

"Having watched Cutler struggle with Roy Williams last year, it's clear as day the chemistry he has with Marshall," said Jeremy Stoltz, who is the publisher of Bear Report and BearReport.com. "On almost every snap Marshall is the first read, and their timing was evident from the first offseason practice. And when the heat is on, Cutler has shown no qualms about throwing it up there and letting Marshall use his size and athletic ability to beat defenders."

Even in the pass-happy world of professional football these days, when 19 players recorded at least 1,000 yards receiving last year alone, the Monsters of the Midway haven't had anybody crack the quadruple-digit mark since Marty Booker all the way back in 2002.

"On almost every snap Marshall is the first read, and their timing was evident from the first offseason practice. And when the heat is on, Cutler has shown no qualms about throwing it up there and letting Marshall use his size and athletic ability to beat defenders."

-- Jeremy Stoltz

Johnny Knox led the way this past season, registering 727 yards -- 52nd in the league and behind 14 tight ends, two alone in New England -- on just 37 grabs before a back injury at Seattle in Week 15 shelved him. Cutler's top pass-catching weapon since making the move from Mile High to the Windy City has been Forte out of the backfield, as Devin Hester and one-time Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett are no better than No. 3 wideouts in most offenses these days.

Marshall, on the other hand, is someone enemy defensive coordinators simply must account for each and every Sunday, as he is a giant compared to most cornerbacks and safeties. He should offer the kind of red-zone threat that the Hesters and Bennetts never could, plus he's used to being doubled on a regular basis and can create one-on-one matchups for his fellow receivers. If Marshall does what he normally does and Hester, Bennett and maybe even second rounder Alshon Jeffery -- Knox is currently on the PUP list still dealing with his back issue -- fill in the blanks, Cutler is primed to author the first 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history.

While Jeffery is a big boy himself at 6-3 and 216 pounds and could turn out to be a bargain in Round 2, he isn't as physically imposing as Marshall, who sometimes looks like a defensive end out there running routes with the little guys.

"Most noticeable is his height," said Stoltz, "then his long arms. Marshall towers over his fellow receivers, as well as the defensive backs he faces every day."

Additionally, ego-driven offensive coordinator Mike Martz is out, clearing the way for former offensive line coach Mike Tice to start calling the plays and give Cutler more pre-snap options.

"Cutler was handcuffed under Martz, who didn't even allow audibles," Stoltz said. "Under Tice, Cutler now has the freedom to be a field general, about which he has expressed extreme pleasure. With Tice in charge, expect a power running game augmented by a downfield passing attack, which will utilize the team's tight ends."

When you add it up, with Cutler back healthy from a thumb injury, Forte finally getting the long-term contract this offseason he richly deserved and Marshall bringing an element to the passing game not seen in quite some time, the Midway Monsters are a trendy pick to make a run for the Super Bowl.

We know the Bears are going to play defense, even with Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman all on the wrong side of 30 years old. Special teams are seemingly always a strength in Chicago, with Hester the greatest return man the game has ever seen and Robbie Gould a marksman kicker.

Bears fans have always been suckers for three yards and a cloud of dust, but they'll certainly settle for 30 yards and a fresh set of downs if Cutler-to-Marshall picks up where it left off in 2008.


John Crist is a columnist for FOX Sports NEXT, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of both the Professional Football Writers of America and Football Writers Association of America.


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