LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A couple of factors have led to instability and uncertainty in a Chicago Bears wide receiver corps that seemed all but settled at the outset of training camp.
The backbone of the receiving corps and even special teams may be affected as a result of camp battles and injuries.
Coaches expect Brandon Marshall to be fine for the regular-season opener, yet his health has been treated with more caution than was anticipated prior to the opening of training camp due to the off-season hip surgery he had. However, it's not Marshall or second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery who are the real subjects in question.
The second concussion suffered by wide receiver Earl Bennett since last December has opened up competition for the third through fifth or even sixth receiver spots. Bennett, who suffered the injury Aug. 2, also happens to be the backup punt returner, and has three more years left on a contract that includes salaries of $2.25 million, $2.35 million and $2 million through 2015.
The emergence of rookie Marquess Wilson has added greatly to the state of flux. Wilson looks too talented to trim from the roster, but adds nothing on special teams.
Veteran Eric Weems rarely gets much attention in the passing game, but is an all-around special teams performer on a team that emphasizes this aspect of the game. Weems can return punts and kicks in addition to covering them. Second-year wide receiver Joe Anderson performs well in special teams and has been a steady performer throughout camp on offense. However, he lacks much experience beyond a few games last year. Free agent acquisition Devin Aromashodu had a connection with Cutler his first go-around in Chicago, but is still finding his way through the new offense.
The decision might be easier for coach Marc Trestman if Wilson would step up and play special teams well. Trestman said he has been inconsistent.
"He's a young player, he's probably never done it before but he's got to recognize how important it is because of where he would be on the roster presently," Trestman said.
Selecting among Bennett, Wilson, Weems, Aromashodu and Anderson to fill two or three spots would seem the difficult choice facing coaches in an offense that can be expected to use four wide receivers extensively.
But then there is the added question of Devin Hester. Do numbers allow for five or six wide receivers along with Hester, who serves no role beyond returning punts and kicks. The Bears have other candidates in the return game beyond Weems and Hester, including former LSU running back Michael Ford.
Would the Bears be better served saving Hester's $1.857 million salary and letting him go or trading him? Only $1.6 million under the cap when camp started, they could use the room to maneuver.
In addition to settling on backup wideouts, they'll have to decide whether more versatile players who provided depth at a cheaper rate are preferable to a former 30-something wide receiver who only returns punts and kicks.