Chicago Bears' receivers getting healthy, better
The Chicago Bears are getting healthier at wide receiver.
Eddie Royal is back on the practice field but not yet involved in any contact after working his way through the concussion protocol. Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are 100 percent after dealing with some minor injuries early in camp.
Jeffery believes the group, if it's healthy, can be one of the best in the NFL.
"We're going to set the tone," he said. "That's the way we feel; that's what we look forward to (doing) against anybody. Just dominate. Take over the game."
The Bears aren't there yet, not by a long stretch, but wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson believes he has talent to develop.
"What I like about them is they hang around," Johnson said. "If I'm in the meeting room, they'll come in the meeting room. They'll watch film. They're the ones who are kind of being aggressive in the relationship. You've got to love that."
The key to the success of Johnson's group is the dangerous duo of Jeffery and White. Their size, speed and big-play potential will be a major concern of opposing defenses.
"They're big and physical and fast," Johnson said. "A lot of these DBs are smallish, so we have some size advantage on them. It's a great thing to have."
It's a given that, if he's healthy, Jeffery will put up Pro Bowl-like numbers, which he has done in each of the past three seasons. Johnson compares Jeffery to two of the best he has coached in 30 years.
"He's big, like (Marques) Colston," Johnson said of the New Orleans Saints' standout who has 9,759 career receiving yards. "I would say he has very good hands like (former Colt) Reggie Wayne (14,345 career receiving yards)."
The Bears drafted White seventh overall in 2015 to be an immediate complement to Jeffery, and to possibly replace the Pro Bowler if he walks after playing under the franchise tag this year. That's a lot of responsibility, and White has a long way to go, but Johnson has seen encouraging signs.
"He comes from a (West Virginia) program that really didn't move him around very much, so now he's getting used to the (different) formations," Johnson said. "He's getting used to the quarterbacks; he's getting used to everything. He needs to improve on that, but it's going pretty fast.
"He's going to be outstanding."
Other than the 30-year-old Royal, seventh-year veteran Marc Mariani is the most experienced member of the group, and he brings consistency and versatility plus return ability.
Almost exclusively a special-teams player until last season when he caught 22 passes for 300 yards, Mariani went to the 2010 Pro Bowl as a return specialist with the Tennessee Titans.
"Love him," Johnson said of Mariani. "He can do everything. He plays every (wide receiver) position; knows the game. Physical. Tough. You watch him block."
After cameo appearances in the previous three seasons, Josh Bellamy emerged in 2015 with 19 receptions for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 211-pounder from Louisville leads the Bears with 5 preseason catches and 56 receiving yards.
"He's improved his game," Johnson said. "He's dropped a couple pounds, and he's really quick in and out of his breaks."
Bellamy's hands weren't always reliable in the past, but he's more consistent now.
"In the spring he dropped a couple," Johnson said. "But now he's really catching the ball well. He's playing with some confidence."
Confidence seems to come naturally to rookie Daniel Braverman, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound seventh-round pick out of Western Michigan.
"He's quick," Johnson said. "He has phenomenal hands. He has a knack for getting open, and he's faster than you think."
Braverman's confidence borders on cockiness, but Johnson says that's almost expected at the position that he himself played back in the day.
"Typical receiver," Johnson said with a laugh. "I was one myself. They all think they're the best in the world. They think they look the best. I'm ugly, and I thought I looked good."
Johnson likes the looks of his crew, but he knows it's a work in progress.
"This group is a very talented," he said. "We've just got to continue to work hard. The talent is there, but they have to become complete receivers."
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