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Marshall injury could give Wilson a prime opportunity to step up

The notion of a non-playoff team building for next season is not always as practical as it sounds and rarely embraced by a team like the Bears. But they have a particularly good opportunity to do that with wide receiver Marquess Wilson.

With Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall on injured reserve and out for the season after sustaining broken ribs and a punctured lung against the Dallas Cowboys last week, Jay Cutler will have an opportunity to make up for lost time and build a rapport with the talented Wilson in the final three games of the season.

The 6-4, 180-pound Wilson is the kind of tall, rangy target Cutler loves. But Wilson missed three months after suffering a broken clavicle early in training camp. And even after he returned on Nov. 2, opportunities have not been plentiful with Marshall and Alshon Jeffery ahead of him in the pecking order at wide receiver.

In four games since returning, Wilson has been targeted 14 times, with seven receptions for 53 yards (7.6 yards per catch) and no touchdowns. He was targeted five times, with two catches for 19 yards, after Marshall suffered the injury against the Cowboys.

Marshall, who was hospitalized after sustaining the injuries against the Cowboys, is out of the hospital, but was placed on IR on Monday.

But as unfortunate as Marshall’s injury and absence is, it is also could be the best chance yet for Cutler and Wilson to build a foundation that could pay dividends next season.

“It’s never a good thing to see a teammate go down like that,” Wilson said. “Brandon was a phenomenal player. But whoever’s up next has to step up and fill what he was doing. We have plenty of receivers capable of doing that.”

While veteran Josh Morgan will figure into the equation, there’s little question that Wilson is the next man up. The 22-year-old from Tulare, Calif. was considered a potential first- or second-round draft pick until in 2013 until his stock dropped after he quit the Washington State team toward the end of the 2012 season.

it’s been a challenge, though, to break through as the No. 3 receiver in a Jay Cutler offense. Even Earl Bennett — an all-time Cutler favorite — had just 32 receptions as the No. 3 receiver behind Marshall and Jeffery in 2013. But with Marshall out, the Cutler-Wilson connection should be enhanced.

“I think him and Jay are very well connected,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “His role and his opportunities will grow because Brandon will be out of the lineup.

“He’s had a lot of practice time with Jay over the last few weeks and early in training camp. I’m excited about seeing where Marquess goes over the next few weeks and how he does.”

Wilson said he is neither hampered by the injury or the layoff. “I’m fully back. I feel good. I feel great,” he said. “Just thankful for being able to play again.”

He was unconcerned about his modest production since returning from the injury.

“I don’t really worry about the numbers. I’m out there having run with the guys,” he said. “I enjoy being with the team and being able to make a play whenever my [number] is called.”

Building a rapport with Cutler is a non-issue, Wilson said.

“I don’t think he has any favorite guys. He really just throws it to the open receiver,” Wilson said. “As far as a connection with Jay, trust-wise it’s just about getting open.”