The Chicago Bears have completed nearly a week of organized training activities (OTAs) and so far a number of roster battles have emerged. These competitions will develop through the remainder of OTAs and veteran minicamp, and will be decided during training camp and the preseason.
With the draft and free-agent signings behind us, now is the perfect time to begin outlining the numerous competitions currently underway. In this first installment, we break down the wide receivers, where multiple positions are available for the taking.
At the top of the depth chart is Brandon Marshall, who last season broke franchise records for catches (118) and receiving yards (1,508) en route to his fourth Pro Bowl appearance. Behind him, second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery is expected to take a step forward this year as the club's No. 2 pass catcher. Jeffery showed flashes of serious potential his rookie season, yet leg injuries limited his production to just 24 catches for 367 yards and 3 TDs. If he can stay healthy, this big, talented kid has the potential to triple his numbers from 2012.
Earl Bennett will once again man the slot position, a role in which he's been very inconsistent the past four years. Despite having amazing hands, he's constantly dealing with injuries and he struggles mightily against physical cornerbacks. Still, Jay Cutler has a lot of trust in him and Bennett definitely has playmaking ability, but the underachieving needs to stop or else Marc Trestman will start looking at other options in the slot.
Beyond those three, the roster is wide open at the receiver position. The last two years, the Bears have kept seven wideouts on the roster, which means there are potentially four positions yet to be claimed.
"We're looking at players as much as we can," Trestman said. "We're going to go into training camp I think with 11 [receivers]."
Let's break down the competitors one by one.
Eric Weems (5-9, 195) 8th year
Weems does not have the size or the speed to be a full-time offensive player. He's a Pro Bowl kick returner and has a ton of value on special teams but he's never caught more than 11 passes in a single season and had just two receptions last year. That said, in a limited role, I believe Weems can be very effective on offense. He's not going to beat the defense for 60-yard touchdowns but he's a scrappy player who can get the tough yards. If injuries force him into receiving duty, he'll do just fine. He was working with the first team this week during OTAs, so unless something crazy happens over the next few months, Weems' roster spot is safe.
Joe Anderson (6-1, 196) 2nd year
Anderson, a UDFA out of Texas Southern, earned a spot on the practice squad coming out of training camp. He was eventually activated in Week 15 and played well as a member of the coverage units. Having already showed his value as a special teams player, Anderson now has an opportunity to increase his role on offense. He was working with the second-team during OTAs and he appears to be a frontrunner for one of the final WR spots.
Terrence Toliver (6-5, 204) 2nd year
Toliver is a former UDFA who was originally signed by the Houston Texans before spending 2011 on the Detroit Lions' practice squad. He was cut by the Lions in training camp last year and ended up playing for the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL (20 catches, 280 yards, 1 TD). Despite not having played in an NFL game, Toliver looked the part of an NFL receiver during minicamps and OTAs. He has ideal size for a split end and has already demonstrated playmaking ability. In fact, with Brandon Marshall still on the mend from hip surgery, Toliver has been the most impressive Bears pass catcher of the offseason to this point. He's working with the second team and has an outstanding shot at securing a roster spot this year.
On the Bubble
Brittan Golden (5-11, 186) 2nd year
Golden was in Bourbonnais last year but was waived at the end of the preseason. He spent time on the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad in December and was re-signed by the Bears in February. Moss has decent speed (4.48) but lacks ideal size and hands. Still, he seems to always make at least one great play during every practice. He was working with the second team but he must show some more consistency if he's going to make the final 53.
Dale Moss (6-3, 213) 2nd year
Moss spent time on the practice squads of the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year before being signed to Chicago's practice squad in late November. Moss is tall and lanky and could be a weapon in the red zone. He's not very fast and is still very raw but his size and pure athleticism will put him squarely in the mix.
Marquess Wilson (6-4, 184) Rookie
Chicago's seventh-round selection has third-round talent but Wilson comes with serious baggage, having left the Washington State football team midway through last season. If he's able to put that behind him and keep his head on straight, there's no reason he can't earn a roster spot this season. He must put on some weight but he's fast, runs every route in the route tree, high-points the ball and has good hands. Concentration is also an issue but a focused Wilson has the potential to be dangerous.
These three are camp bodies who have been working with the third team this offseason. Due to his size, Rucker has the best shot at making the team but no one here has shown much on the practice field. But that doesn't mean this won't also be a compelling training camp competition, as all three will be battling for a place on the practice squad.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.