Bears' Marshall plans to play at heavier weight
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BOURBONNAIS — At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Brandon Marshall has always been capable of going into Beast Mode after catching the football. His 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 10 touchdowns last season are the most recent example.
Now, the Bears' go-to guy, who made his fourth Pro Bowl last season in his first year with his new team, wants to get even bigger and stronger. Coming back from off-season hip surgery that has occasionally diminished his practice time at training camp, Marshall wants to improve upon his strengths while helping the Bears make a smooth transition to a new offensive scheme.
"The thing that separates me, the thing that I can be the best at, is breaking tackles and getting upfield," Marshall said. "So the thing that I'm focused on this year is getting stronger, especially my hip, (and from) my waist down area and maybe playing with a few extra pounds."
With the elimination of tackling during coach Marc Trestman's first training camp, Marshall will have to wait at least until Friday's preseason opener against the Panthers to determine if his already excellent tackle-breaking skills have improved. But, like most players, Marshall's is fine with a minimum of contact in camp.
"If we were tackling hard in practice, I'd be going to the NBA or something, because I wouldn't be playing this game," he joked. "I tried that during the (2011 preseason) lockout, and that didn't go too well. I stepped out there and tried to shoot a 3, air-balled it and said, 'Let me stick to football.'"
Marshall, who lettered in basketball three times in high school and was a state triple-jump champion, missed two of four practices before Saturday night's session at Soldier Field. But Trestman said there is no cause for concern.
"This has been part of the plan," he said. "He's feeling good, and we will continue forward with that plan."
Entering his eighth year in the league, the 29-year-old Marshall has caught more than 100 passes in four of the previous six seasons while playing at 230 pounds. He's also put together six straight 1,000-yard campaigns.
But he believes bigger is better.
"This year I'm gonna play at 235," he said. "But I'm lean, like I was in college, about 6.3 percent body fat, ready to rock and roll."
Marshall believes his game will be helped by the additional firepower that surrounds him, even though it's likely to lower his statistics. Last season he had more yardage than the Bears' next four receivers combined, and he had 89 more catches than the next best wide receiver (Earl Bennett, 29).
"It's going to help a lot," he said of a stronger supporting cast. "You've got guys like (tight end) Martellus (Bennett) running up the field, Alshon (Jeffery) really maturing a lot over the off-season.
"It's just going to open up the seams a lot more. They're going to have to play fair, you know? I've been seeing a lot of double- and triple-coverage, and not all because of my ability, but because other guys were not in position, because of the player's fault or the coaches' fault."
Despite Marshall's huge numbers in 2012, the Bears were still 28th in total offense and 29th in passing offense. In head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer's version of the West Coast offense, the ball is expected to be spread around more evenly.
"Now, seeing these guys get open, and Coach Trestman getting other guys involved near the ball, says a lot," Marshall said. "And I'm excited to see it because when you have a happy (receiver) room, the offense just runs smoother."
Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler are excited to see a big group of targets in his offense, including 6-foot-6 Martellus Bennett and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery, but especially Marshall.
"We've got some tall guys with some girth on them," Trestman said. "It's certainly easier to see them with what's going on up front. It's always a good thing to have guys who can run like that and have strong hands and make plays, and we're lucky to have them."
Growing pains for Marshall and everyone else on offense might be expected in the first year of a new offense, but the big wideout says he's encouraged by the progress that's been made in just over a week at training camp.
"Usually when you change your offense up, or change anything up, it takes time," Marshall said. "(Usually) it's going to be a work in progress throughout this year, throughout the next few years just to catch up with some of the great offenses that are around the league.
But I'm shocked to see where we're at today. I mean, we're putting in extra work, Jay is really leading us and holding us accountable, and I think that's the reason why we're making big jumps every single day."
• Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.
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