LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Marshall anticipated “a problem” for Chicago in 2013 if he finished with 118 catches like he did last season.
On pace to bring in just 12 fewer grabs this year, what Marshall notices now with the emergence of Alshon Jeffery is that the Bears have created a problem for everyone trying to defend them. Asked about being a part of one of the top receiving duos in the NFL, Marshall corrected the inquirer.
“I don’t think it’s ‘one of the top,’” Marshall said. “I think we are the top. Numbers don’t lie.”
They instead speak to the work Marshall and Jeffery did in the offseason, while flashing a sliver of what Chicago’s offense might develop into. With a combined 1,521 receiving yards, Marshall and Jeffery rank first among receiving duos in the NFL, ahead of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in Denver (1,514 combined yards), DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper in Philadelphia (1,458) and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Marvin Jones (1,450).
What’s more telling is that the Bears average fewer pass attempts than all but one of those teams.
“We’re definitely the No. 1 tandem in the league right now,” Marshall said. “That’s something I take a lot of pride in. Before, I was trying to be the best wide receiver in the league. Now my focus is on building this dynamic tandem that’s hard to stop.”
That’s where the offseason work conducted by Marshall and Jeffery enter the picture.
Jeffery showed promise as a rookie last season, but durability quickly became an issue. He missed Weeks 7 through 10 with a broken hand and Weeks 12 and 13 due to a knee issue. This led Marshall to want to take an active role in preparing Jeffery for the rigors of an NFL season.
So Marshall invited Jeffery to work with him during the offseason in Florida. While there, they transformed the second-year receiver’s body with a combination of strenuous workouts and proper dieting.
“We’re lucky to have them both,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “From his offseason work to teaching him how to train and take care of his body, I think Brandon is one of Alshon’s biggest supporters in all this and in the process.”
Marshall is on pace to finish the season with 1,397 yards, and if Jeffery maintains his current level of production, he’ll gain 1,306. That would work out to more than 1.5 miles of receiving yardage between them -- a number that seems possible because of the way opponents now have to play the Bears.
It wasn’t long ago that Marshall saw near-constant double-teams. But with the emergence of Jeffery, combined with the threats posed by running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett, Marshall notices now that teams play the Bears more honestly.
“I believe it really makes the team better, it’s better for our offense, and if they’re going to double me Alshon’s going to get one-on-one, or Martellus, or vice versa,” Marshall said. “Now you’re starting to see teams really play us one-on-one and head up, and it just opens up everything across the board. Now we’re starting to see teams really start to roll over Alshon’s way. So it’s pretty cool to see, and it makes my job a lot easier.
“That’s one of the reasons why it was important for us to get together this offseason, to really work on him staying healthy, him staying strong, and fine-tuning the little things. It’s a testament to his preparation this offseason.”