During training camp this year, I asked Chicago Bears wide receivers coach Mike Groh about his top two pass catchers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Having had a limited time to work with them, Groh commented on their potential as a duo, particularly Jeffery, whom he felt was poised for special things this season.
"I certainly am seeing a lot of progress by Alshon," Groh said in early August. "He's had a tremendous offseason and it's carried over to camp. You see tremendous things from him every day. He's a really sharp, instinctive player with tremendous ball skills."
Fast forward 11 weeks. Jeffery currently has 58 catches for 860 yards (15th best in the league) and three touchdowns. His development this season has been dramatic and has played a huge part in the success of Chicago's seventh-ranked passing offense.
"We're very excited with his progress, his contributions and his production," Groh today told Bear Report. "He's done a great job."
At the same time, Marshall is producing at his typical level, with 74 catches (third most in the NFL), 945 yards (10th most) and nine touchdown receptions (3rd most). Combined, Marshall and Jeffery have 1,805 receiving yards, the most of any receiving duo in the league.
"I think they've benefited from the system but they've made the system too," said Groh. "They obviously are very good players. Brandon has had a lot of production for many years, so he's just kind of being Brandon Marshall again. It's just fun to see Alshon grow and gain confidence and have the kind of numbers that he deserves, with all the work he's put into it."
The growth of Jeffery hasn't allowed opposing defenses to focus all of their attention on Marshall, which has made his job much easier this season.
"They've certainly got to pick their poison there," Groh said. "In addition to Alshon, we've got Matt Forte out there and Martellus Bennett and Earl Bennett can sneak up on you. They've got a lot of things to keep their eye on, on defense, so it's harder to roll coverage [to Marshall]."
Personality-wise, Marshall and Jeffery couldn't be any more different. Marshall is outgoing and talkative, while Jeffery is as quiet as a dormouse. Yet the two have formed a bond that Groh believes has helped them to develop as teammates.
"They are very close," said Groh. "With all of the success that Brandon has had, it's a credit to him that he's not insecure, that he wouldn't share what he knows through his experience. He really does impart that wisdom on Alshon. He gives him little, finer coaching points that you only learn through experience. Alshon is very receptive to it. They've got a very good relationship on and off the field."
Yet they're not just great receivers. Marshall and Jeffery are two of the best blocking wideouts in the league, something that shows up time and again on film.
"They are a big mismatch with their length and obviously they're strong," Groh said. "They do provide a physical mismatch in a lot of those situations. They take pride in being a complete player and that's what we talk about here. They've bought into it, to their credit, and they've done a really good job with it."
In addition, Jeffery has also provided a spark as a ball carrier on end-around plays. He's carried the ball 13 times for 115 yards, second best on the team. It's an added dimension Jeffery brings to the table, forcing opposing defenses to stay on their toes.
"He's just really decisive. He's got very good vision. He sets the blockers up well," said Groh. "He's a one-cut runner, so once he makes up his mind and he sees the play evolve, he's going to stick his foot in the ground and he's going to get up the field. He's done a tremendous job with it. It's really been a big weapon for us."
Chicago has never had a pass-catching duo like Marshall and Brandon, who are on pace to shatter the franchise all-time record for combined receiving yardage. With the defense crumbling, the Bears' only chance to make the playoffs this season will be on the back of its offense. That means Jeffery and Marshall are going to have to continue dominating. Fortunately, they appear poised to do just that.
"I wouldn't' want to trade them for anybody else, I know that," Groh said, "and I don't think coach [Marc] Trestman would either."
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.