Meredith wants to step up as Bears big-game receiver

BOURBONNAIS - One year ago, Bears wide receiver Cam Meredith reported to training camp as just another guy fighting for a roster spot.

Now, he's "THE GUY," in the Bears' passing game.

Meredith caught just 11 passes for 120 yards as an undrafted Bears rookie out of Illinois State in 2015. He was a healthy scratch in the first two games of 2016, but he exploded shortly after that. Meredith stepped up when 2015 first-round pick Kevin White suffered a season-ending ankle/leg injury in Week 4. In his first game as a starter, Meredith caught 9 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 207-pounder wound up leading the Bears with 66 catches and 888 yards.

Now, with two-time Pro Bowl wideout Alshon Jeffery gone to Philadelphia via free agency, Meredith was asked if he considers himself the Bears' go-to receiver.

"Yeah," he said. "I want to go out there and make every catch. I want to be a reliable guy. Last year I was able to do that and showcase my talents. This year, that's another big focus."

The consensus among Meredith's coaches and teammates is that he is capable of much more.

"The sky's the limit for Cam," said Bears wide receivers coach Zach Azzani. "He's everything you want in an NFL receiver. He's tall, he's loose, he's got great ball skills, he can run. He's smart because he played quarterback (at St. Joseph H.S. In Westchester and for two years at ISU), so he gets the game a little bit better maybe than other players at that position."

Meredith no longer has Jeffery as a complement on the other side of field, and all three of the quarterbacks who threw him touchdown passes last season - Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley - are gone. Meredith was the only player in the NFL in 2016 to catch a TD pass from three different quarterbacks.

But the Bears added veteran wide receivers Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton in the off-season; and Meredith and new quarterback Mike Glennon already appear to have developed a rapport in practice.

Cruz, who had 1,536 receiving yards in 2011 and was a Pro Bowl pick after the 2012 season, was asked if Meredith has Pro Bowl potential.

"Obviously, he's got the size and strength to do it, and (he has) catching and route-running abilities as well," Cruz said. "And he (has an) understanding of this offense. He's a smart kid, he understands exactly what's being asked of him, and I think this offense suits him well. In camp, he's made some pretty nice plays."

Although Meredith's speed is average by wide receiver standards, he possesses most of the other traits required for NFL stardom.

"What's intriguing about him is with his size and stature, (he still has) the ability to get in and out of breaks (quickly)," Bears GM Ryan Pace said. "He's a very good route runner for his size - and then (there's) his catching radius. He's got really good body control to make adjustments on balls thrown behind him and outside his frame."

When the Bears got their first good look at Meredith, as one of the local players they worked out at Halas Hall prior to the 2015 draft, he had only played wide receiver for two years. He was still learning the position, but coaches were impressed with his raw talent. He's worked overtime to hone his skills since then.

"He's mentally prepared himself and works very hard," coach John Fox said. "He's got a great work ethic. That's why he continues to grow."

Meredith says he won't shift into cruise control on the strength of one impressive season.

"I've still got to go out there and make plays," he said. "I'm never one to settle for something. So I've got to continue to get better and continue to work hard, and the rest will take care of itself."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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