Are the Bears’ receivers being overlooked?
Cornerback Prince Amukamara carefully considered words. He wanted to be a good teammate, while respecting the greatness of a former one.
“I’m trying to be politically correct here,” Amukamara said. “I’m just doing it just to say like, ‘Hey, Odell is a great wide receiver.’ ”
What Amukamara is doing is offering the Bears’ receivers advice when they ask for it or if he feels compelled to do so after making a play against them.
And he’s using Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as an example.
Beckham — a true NFL superstar who has 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns in his first three seasons — is Amukamara’s ultimate point of reference for receivers after they played together for two years with the Giants.
“If they ask or if I make a play, I’ll say, hey, this is what I play here or I’ll tell them like this is what Odell does or did,” Amukamara said. “[It’s] stuff like that. Just because I know that Odell is pretty respected around the league.”
The Bears’ receivers, meanwhile, might be among the most disrespected.
The criticisms are all the same. Cam Meredith, an undrafted third-year player from Illinois State, isn’t a true No. 1 receiver. Kevin White can’t stay healthy. The always-good Steelers said goodbye to Markus Wheaton. And Victor Cruz and Kendall Wright are past their primes.
But is it possible that the Bear’ receivers are being overlooked? Could they be a much better group — in terms of skill and production — than most expect?
Optimism starts with understanding the receivers’ place in the offense – one that’s been completely overhauled since general manager Ryan Pace arrived. These aren’t the pass-happy days of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has described his offense as “game-plan based.” It’s also one that’s built from the inside out in terms of strength.
The Bears will lean on running back Jordan Howard and a formidable offensive line that starts with guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long and center Cody Whitehair.
Beyond Howard, the offense can turn to the mismatches that tight ends Zach Miller, Adam Shaheen and Dion Sims are able to naturally create.
In an ideal world, the Bears’ receivers will complement all of the above.
As a group, the receivers are more diverse talent-wise than last year. Players always will move around, but Cruz, Wright and Wheaton give the Bears their first true slot options in years.
It’s also important to have the right expectations.
No one is expecting Cruz, Wright or Wheaton to surpass 1,000 yards receiving, though the Bears would welcome such developments. But the veterans will be counted on to win matchups in the slot. Loggains called it “third-down value.”
All that said, it’s Meredith and White who have started to impress in camp. Meredith has been a handful on a daily basis for Amukamara and cornerback Marcus Cooper. White has gradually improved.
“Both have great potential,” Amukamara said. “Both are great receivers.”
White, of course, is the true wild card of the group. Meredith might be the Bears’ best receiver right now, but White still was the seventh-overall pick in 2015.
“If he stays healthy, I think he’ll be one of the hardest wide receivers in the NFL to stop,” Wright said.
White is under intense scrutiny being a first-round pick.
But Wright said the receivers are aware of their critics, too.
“We got guys coming from different situations and different things,” Wright said. “They just use that and go out here and try to put good stuff on film. I like the competition that we have.”
A something-to-prove mentality definitely exists.
“I think we have a really good group of guys,” Wright said. “We’ll be able to surprise a lot of people out there.”