The injury finalizes what has been Marshall’s worst season in the NFL. He caught 61 passes for 721 yards, which are career lows since becoming a starter his second season in the league.
Marshall was hampered by injuries to both ankles this year, which explains to some extent his poor season. The Bears gave Marshall a three-year contract extension this past offseason. The team is hopeful it was the injuries, and not the beginning of the 30-year-old’s decline, that led to the down year.
Age isn’t a concern for 21-year-old Marquess Wilson, who will replace Marshall in the starting lineup. The team’s seventh-round draft pick last year, Wilson missed the first nine games this season after breaking his collarbone in training camp.
In the past four games, he’s caught five passes for 40 yards, giving him seven catches for 53 yards in his career. Wilson will be inserted with the first team alongside Alshon Jeffery and Josh Morgan.
“We’ll move [Wilson] around,” coach Marc Trestman said yesterday. “We’ll give him different places to come off the line of scrimmage and elevate his game in terms of making the [play] when we target him.”
Wilson has been targeted just 14 times this season and only 27 times in his career. With Marshall out, he could easily double that total over the next three games.
“I think he’s off and running,” said Trestman. “He knew how he would be targeted as we got him involved and certainly that’ll grow this week with Brandon out.”
Before the injury, Wilson was having a stellar training camp. As a downfield target, he gained Jay Cutler’s trust daily – he broke his collarbone making a 50-yard diving touchdown grab – which could result in some positive early returns.
“I think him and Jay are very well connected,” Trestman said. “Offensively his role and his opportunities will grow because Brandon will be out of the lineup. He’s had a lot of practice time with Jay certainly over the last few weeks and early in training camp.”
Taking the long-term view, Marshall’s injury is a good thing. The Bears are out of the playoffs, so with Marshall on the shelf, the team now gets a great opportunity to see what Wilson can accomplish in a full-time role. He’s still an unknown commodity, yet everyone within the organization believes his ceiling is very high.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll get a very good look at what Wilson brings to the table and his potential in this offense going forward. The New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions are fighting for playoff spots, so the Bears’ next two games could get out of hand early. That’ll force the team into passing mode, meaning plenty of targets for the youngster.
“I’m excited about seeing where Marquess goes over the next few weeks and how he does,” said Trestman.
On Monday Night Football this week, the Bears will host the Saints, who have the 30th-ranked passing defense. It’s an ideal scenario for Wilson, playing at Soldier Field in a meaningless game against one of the league’s worst pass defenses.
We’ll find out in six days whether he’s up to the challenge.
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.