Replacing Brandon Marshall a group effort for Bears

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The Bears say it will take a group effort to replace former receiver Brandon Marshall. (Getty Images)

Even if Jay Cutler considered Alshon Jeffery his No. 1 receiver in years past, he would have had a hard time saying so. Could you imagine Brandon Marshall’s reaction to even the slightest of public slights?

So it was no surprise to hear the Bears quarterback say this week that, with Marshall now off laboring for the Jets, Jeffery could be Cutler’s top option.

“I don’t see why not,” Cutler said. “He makes big plays for us, he knows the offense, he’s a big target, and, I think more importantly, that’s the guy he wants to become.

“He wants to become the No. 1 every day out here, and he’s taking the proper steps.

“He’s always been a quiet guy, but anytime you put on film or see him work in the weight room on the field, you can’t deny that. It inspires the receivers, myself and everyone else to work as hard as he’s working.”

The Bears can’t replace Marshall one-for-one. They know that. That’s why the team drafted Kevin White No. 7 overall and signed Eddie Royal to a three-year, $15 million contract. White missed mandatory minicamp with an undisclosed injury, but should return in time for training camp July 29, coach John Fox said Thursday.

Last year’s No. 3, Marquess Wilson, has impressed coaches, including new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, during the offseason program. He’ll likely be tasked with special teams, too.

“I think it’s a great group, just with the variety of age, size, speed,” Royal said. “A lot of guys do different things well, and that’s good for our offense because you could set certain guys in position to where they could have success.

“Some guys are better at deep balls. Some guys are better at underneath stuff. You want a balanced offense to where guys can do everything.”

While Cutler joked that the lineup is “a little shorter” without Marshall— who was a star in 2012, shared Pro Bowl status with Jeffery in 2013 and was outplayed by his protégé before being injured last year — he didn’t seem too concerned it would suffer.

Cutler should know: In addition to working alongside Jeffery for three years and Wilson for two, he and Royal are old teammates. In 2008, the rookie caught 91 passes for the Broncos; his quarterback, Cutler, went to his only Pro Bowl.

Royal — a prototypical slot receiver who wants to prove he can play outside, too — noticed a matured Cutler watching him play with his kids at family barbecue Wednesday at Halas Hall.

“It’s a great side to see, though, because I see what type of father he is,” Royal said. “He puts in the work. That hasn’t changed. He’s paying attention to all the little details, and that’s great to see from your quarterback.”

Cutler recognized that trait in Royal, too, which is how they first clicked. At his first organized team activity practice as a rookie, Royal stared downward before a play.

“He came back to the huddle and I grabbed his arm and he had written down all the plays and what he had for each for route,” Cutler said. “That just tells me it’s important to him. He doesn’t want to mess up.

“He wants to come out here and do the right things and that is still the same to this day.”

So does Wilson, who has “made some grabs and coach the coaches’ eyes,” Fox said.

“I don’t really feel like I’m a forgotten man (because of the moves),” said Wilson, who finally feels recovered from the clavicle injury he suffered last training camp. “I just gotta come out where and work like everybody else.”

Combined, they can make up for Marshall’s absence.

“We’re confident with this group,” Cutler said.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickFinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com


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