Sunday, August 11, 2013
Wilson on spot to find special teams role
By Jeff Dickerson
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Wide receiver Marquess Wilson's sole responsibility in three years at Washington State was to catch the football, a job the Chicago Bears’ 2013 seventh-round draft choice excelled at.
The Bears' Marquess Wilson, center, runs for a long gain after a catch against the Panthers on Friday.
Wilson left school as the Cougars’ all-time leader in receiving yards (3,207), while ranking second in school history in receptions (189) and touchdown catches (23). Those numbers look even more impressive when you factor in that Wilson played in only 33 career games with 27 starts before leaving the team last year after a fallout with WSU head coach Mike Leach.
Wilson flashed in the Bears’ first preseason game with an impressive 58-yard catch in Carolina.
But one area Wilson did not contribute in college was on special teams, a phase of the game that almost every NFL reserve player must embrace in order to earn a spot in the 53-man roster. Wilson said the Bears are taking a look at him on the punt (gunner) and kickoff team.
“It was different coming from college where I never played special teams, Wilson said. “But (I’ll do) anything to get on the field.”
Bears head coach Marc Trestman stressed on Sunday the importance of Wilson making a mark on special teams. Otherwise, can the Bears afford to carry him on the 53-man roster?
“I think the truth of it is and the content of it is he’s shown he can do it (special teams) and then he’ll fall off and then we’ll have to pick him up again,” Trestman said. “He’s got to understand it’s so important for him to be a special teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and he is competing to be a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and you can see what Joe Anderson and Eric Weems do for us. That’s part of the job for a receiver that is not one of the top three, he’s got to be an active special teams player and give us the kind of play that Joe and Eric give us on special teams at this point.
“So, he’s just starting to understand the importance. I have seen him out there and when he’s active and when he’s focused he shows that he has the ability to do it. 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 to make special teams a priority as all the guys who are looking for roster spots who are not starters. We talk about that every day and I think it’s become clearer to him now and I think we’re going to see more because he’s shown flashes of it in practice.”
Wilson would have to clear waivers if the Bears cut him with the intent of re-signing him to the practice squad. Are the Bears willing to take that risk with a 20-year-old wide receiver with an apparent large upside? These are the types of decisions Bears general manager Phil Emery will have to make next month as the final roster takes shape.
One rookie in little to no danger of failing to make the cut is fourth-round linebacker Khaseem Greene, who tied for team lead with four tackles (including one tackle-for-loss) versus the Panthers, plus a stop on special teams.
“The coaches said I did OK,” Greene told reporters on Sunday. “I need to clean up a few technique things but overall they said I was OK. Once I got my feet up under me playing special teams and defense, I was ready to go. It was just getting used to the speed of the game.”
Greene is penciled in to be a four-phase contributor on special teams.
A record crowd of 15,000-plus fans watched Sunday’s practice, according to an ONU official. The previous attendance mark for a single practice was a little over 12,000.
Tight end Steve Maneri hasn’t made many plays catching the ball, but on Tuesday, he put together yet another dominant performance as a blocker during individual drills pitting offensive linemen against the defensive front.
Maneri caught one pass for eight yards in the preseason opener against Carolina, and appears at this point to be the No. 2 tight end behind Martellus Bennett.
Second-year safety Brandon Hardin isn’t working with the first team on any facet of special teams. Given all the depth at safety, he’ll need to find a niche on special teams to stick on the roster.
Tight end Fendi Onobun couldn’t come up with any of the three passes thrown his way against the Carolina Panthers in the exhibition opener, but he rebounded Tuesday with a strong practice, catching nearly every pass in his direction.
Second-year corner Isaiah Frey continues to make the types of plays that should win him the starting job at nickleback. On a Jay Cutler pass to Martellus Bennett, Frey jammed a hand in between the tight end’s arms to knock the ball loose for an incompletion. Then, in red zone drills, Frey picked off a Cutler pass that was tipped.
After watching film from Frey’s outing against the Panthers on Friday, Trestman gave positive reviews.
“I thought he had a good performance. Obviously we would like to see it continue. It continued out here today,” Trestman said. “He made a couple of very good plays out here today in practice as the nickel back. So we’re excited. We need him; the competition there. We’ve lost Kelvin (Hayden) and we need some guys to pick it up. I think over the 11 practices we’ve had and the preseason game, I think Isaiah is in the mix. He’s fighting for a job on this team as the nickel back and as a special-teams player, certainly.”
Cutler floated a ball to Bennett to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, before hitting the tight end for another score on the very next play.
The trend of the preseason continued when Cutler tossed an interception to cornerback Zack Bowman on the opening play of practice.