The expectation in sending two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins was that Brandon Marshall would immediately serve as the Chicago Bears' number one wideout. He was a three-time Pro Bowler coming off five straight seasons with 80 or more catches and at least 1,000 receiving yards. He also had a history of success with Jay Cutler, so there was no reason to think Marshall couldn't be a big weapon in Chicago's offense.
Yet no one could have predicted how good Marshall would actually be. By all accounts, he was even better than advertised and put together the most productive season by a Bears receiver in franchise history. For the charter NFL franchise, one in existence since 1920, that is truly an accomplishment.
Marshall finished 2012 with 118 catches for 1,508 receiving yards, both of which are club records. His 11 touchdown catches were the second most since Mike Ditka's 12 TD grabs in 1961. And he accomplished all of this on a bad hip, for which he had a scope this offseason.
"It's been affecting me for two years," Marshall said during OTAs. "It was one of those things where I thought maybe it was just some training or some strength problems or some flexibility problems. But when we went in there they saw a little something and cleaned it up. It was one of those things where after a lot of pounding it tightened up on me, got a little weak, so now I'm just thankful that we caught it in time and cleaned it out."
Conventional wisdom has most believing that a fully healthy Marshall could be even better than his record-breaking 2012 season.
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"I'm excited to see what I can do fully healthy," Marshall said.
Yet Marshall's production last year came at a price. While he was winning championships for fantasy football owners, Chicago's passing offense struggled, finishing 29th in the league. Jay Cutler finished with the second lowest completion percentage of his career and the fewest passing yards (3,033) in any season in which he started 15 or more games.
At certain points in the campaign, the passing attack consisted of nothing more than Cutler firing to Marshall, covered or not covered, on nearly every play. Marshall finished the year second to only Calvin Johnson in total targets (194), which were more than all of the other receivers on Chicago's roster combined.
While that type of offense will land Marshall in the Hall of Fame, it's highly unlikely the Bears will ever win a championship with such isolation in the passing game.
New head coach Marc Trestman runs a West Coast system, one that relies on getting the ball out early and spreading passes all over the field. In it's most basic form, the West Coast offense relies on quick first and second reads to every point on the field. So from a fundamental standpoint, this is an offense that won't succeed if Marshall is posting Madden-like statistics.
Additionally, this year's offense features a number of new weapons, particularly tight end Martellus Bennett. Throughout the offseason programs, Bennett has been a crucial component of Trestman's passing attack and has been used heavily on both underneath routes and down the seams. Granted, Marshall sat out OTAs and most of veteran minicamp, yet it's obvious that Bennett is light years better than Kellen Davis ever was as a pass catcher.
Another reason to think Marshall's production will drop is due to the potential emergence of second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery, who struggled with injuries his rookie season. When healthy, Jeffery showed flashes of serious potential as a highly productive No. 2 wideout. If he takes a step forward this year, he'll be a weapon that Cutler won't be able to ignore.
And let's not forget Matt Forte, like Mike Tice did last year. In 2012, Forte caught just 44 passes for 340 yards, which were the lowest totals of his five-year career. For a running back that has demonstrated time and again he's a mismatch nightmare out of the backfield, his underutilization last season was borderline criminal.
That will not be the case under Trestman, who loves to use his running backs as pass catchers. When Trestman was offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders in the early 2000s, his top back was Charlie Garner. In Garner's first season under Trestman in 2001, he caught 72 passes for 578 yards. In 2002, he had 91 catches for 941 yards. So there's no reason to think Forte won't be used in a similar fashion, which could end up being the biggest reason for Marshall's expected drop in production.
"I don't know [if I'll be used as much]," said Marshall. "We've got [Martellus Bennett], a running game; I really like it. So I'm sure Matt is going to be the center of our offense. So I don't know. I may have the same amount of targets, I may not. But my only goal is to win. I‘d be lying if I said I don't want to be productive, that I don't want to be up there with the best. But at the end of the day if we don't win, none of us will be here. The only thing I'm excited about is playing my part."
While that part might not be as big as it was last year, it will definitely be as important. If Marshall finds his role in Trestman's offense and Cutler can take full advantage of the other weapons at his disposal, no one is going to complain if Marshall isn't posting eye-popping numbers as long as the passing game improves.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.