Chicago Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who was slated as the club’s No. 3 wide receiver heading into training camp, is expected to miss at least some of the regular season due to a broken collarbone suffered last week.
“It was an injury and a surgery that’s going to take some time to heal,” coach Marc Trestman said this week. “I really don’t know how much [time] but I think it’s certainly going to run into the start of the season at this point.”
Since Wilson’s injury, a pure competition has ensued amongst the other backup wide receivers on Chicago’s roster to be his short-term replacement. In a pass-happy West Coast system, the Bears’ third wideout has substantial value, meaning the winner of this competition will play a significant role on offense to start the 2014 campaign.
Morgan, a former sixth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2008, spent the last two seasons working under Kyle Shanahan in Washington. Morgan led the Redskins with 48 catches in 2012, yet fell out of favor with the coaching staff last season, resulting in a disappointing 20-catch campaign.
He was released this offseason and the Bears signed him to a one-year deal. He’s arguably the best route runner of all the backup options and he easily has the best set of hands. During Monday’s practice, the final padded practice of camp, Morgan was outstanding and made a number of impressive catches with the first team.
On one snap, Morgan raced down the right seam and leaped over the defender to make a one-handed, highlight-reel grab. It was a play that demonstrated his explosive potential, although the humble Morgan said he was just doing his job.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Morgan told Bear Report. “My special teams coach told me my first year in the league, he said, ‘You’re either getting better or you’re getting out of the league.’ So I don’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. I try to stay even keeled, fix your mistakes each day and try to get better at something else each day. The mistakes you made the day before, come back out and show that you’re coachable.”
Morgan isn’t the tallest option to replace Wilson (6-0, 218) but he’s a thick-bodied wideout whose game is comparable to that of Anquan Bolden. His size gives him an advantage on those tough, over-the-middle catches expected of any slot receiver in Trestman’s offense.
Watching Morgan in practice, his talent level is clear, yet he’s never caught more than 52 passes or had more than three touchdowns in any of his six previous NFL seasons. He attributed his inconsistency earlier in his career to a lack of focus on the practice field.
“Throughout my career I’ve kind of been one of those guys that took practice for granted. I took practice more as mental reps, not really physically exerting myself,” Morgan said.
Fortunately, Morgan has had the opportunity to work alongside Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, two of the hardest-working receivers in the league. Marshall in particular is always the most intense player during practice, which has rubbed off on Morgan.
“Those guys, they practice like Pro Bowlers,” said Morgan. “Every play that they’re on the field, it’s a game-like experience. They practice with a sense of urgency. I think that’s the difference between being a good receiver and being a Pro Bowl receiver. I’m blessed to be able to practice with guys like that. They hold you accountable every play.”
That accountability has paid off for Morgan, who I believe will emerge as the club’s third wideout during Wilson’s absence. Morgan also has kick- and punt-return experience, giving him added value on special teams.
The Bears are hoping for a quick return from Wilson but there’s a good possibility he could miss more than a month of the regular season. Someone needs to bridge that gap. Morgan is the most talented wideout of the bunch and his experience should pay off in the clutch. Look for him to emerge as a playmaker for the Bears’ offense during Wilson’s absence.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.