Wilson was regarded as a breakout candidate in the Bears’ offense under Marc Trestman last season. He was expected to earn his share of targets, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery the primary receivers. But it didn’t happen for Wilson, who missed all of the preseason and six games of the regular season with a broken clavicle suffered in training camp.
Now Wilson is looking to fit into new offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s offense but he’s entering a different situation.
As the Bears head into training camp this summer, Wilson will be battling for a bigger role in the offense. Rookie receiver Kevin White missed minicamp with an undisclosed injury, so Wilson saw a lot of time at the No. 2 receiver spot. Along with White returning for training camp and the acquisition of veteran Eddie Royal, the competition for starter reps will heat up in Bourbonnais.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing and head coach John Fox likes what he’s seen from Wilson this off-season.
“He's a young guy that I saw bits of a year ago off of tape,” said Fox. “Then I've had a chance to work with him, about 12 opportunities this year. Like most of the guys, he's worked very hard, made some grabs and caught the coaches' eyes in these offs-season workouts.”
Wilson saw his playing time increase toward the end of his rookie year in 2013 and the seventh-round pick was primed for a bigger role 2014. He returned from temporary IR in week 11 vs. the Vikings but wasn’t fully recovered from his injury. With the Bears offense struggling to produce, so did Wilson.
That is until Brandon Marshall went down with a season-ending injury.
Serving as the team’s No. 2 receiver, Wilson showed the flashes that had fans excited heading into last season. He scored a touchdown in the game Marshall was hurt and in week 16 vs. the Detroit Lions, Wilson recorded 7 receptions for 66 yards.
He’s now looking to build off that late-season push.
“You have to prove yourself every year,” said Wilson during minicamp. “I’ve just got to come out here and work like everybody else.”
Historically, an NFL wide receiver takes a leap forward in his third year after he’s become familiar with an offense and its players. Yet, when you have a brand new offense along with a number of new faces at Halas Hall, it might not be as easy as one thinks. The good news is that the offense isn’t too much different from that with which Wilson is accustomed.
“It’s pretty much the same,” said Wilson. “It’s a lot more thinking and being able to handle it better.”
Wilson may also play a significant role in another phase of the game for the Bears. During veteran mini-camp at Halas Hall, Fox had him work with the special teams units, trying to find ways for Wilson to contribute in any way possible.
“There will be spots on this football team that are for fourth-down guys, core special teams players,” Fox said. “It’s not always going to be the third or fourth tight end or the fourth-best safety. These guys will have to contribute in the kicking game and be good performers in these areas.”
Playing special teams might not be what Wilson envisioned with the new regime, but he’s up for the challenge.
“Anything to help the team,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s biggest challenge will be competing for his place on the depth chart. It’s been a wild ride in his short NFL career and the 6-4, 205-pound receiver will have something to prove when the Bears arrive in Bourbonnais for training camp in late July.
But even with new acquisitions on the team, Wilson knows what he has to do.
“I don't think I'm the forgotten man," said Wilson. "You’ve just got to focus on you. It’s not under your control what happens, so you’ve just got to focus on your game.”
Zack Pearson graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a journalism degree and has years of experience covering the Chicago Bears. He has written for BleacherReport, FanSided and founded ChiCitySports.