Cameron Meredith’s knee injury leaves the Chicago Bears offense in an unenviable position.
Despite having strength in numbers and name recognition, the Bears’ receiving corps lacked high-end talent and upside. So losing Meredith, who led the team with 66 catches and 888 receiving yards in 2016 makes an already thin group that much thinner.
In Meredith’s absence, the Bears will turn to the following cast of characters in search of someone who will step up and fill the void left behind by their No. 1 receiver.
The Bears chose White with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to be a future No. 1 receiver, and it looks like he’ll get an opportunity to earn that title starting now. White entered this season knowing it would be a big one for him after playing just four games in his first two seasons. So if there was pressure on him to pressure on him to perform well before, the loss of Meredith turns it up a little.
White, who has been listed as the starter on the other side of Meredith since the start of preseason, was a non-factor in the first two games (two catches, two yards) before gaining 30 yards on two catches against the Titans. The breakout year everyone has been waiting for could be coming this year if White can stay healthy.
Cruz has been listed as the second-string receiver behind Meredith on the team’s preseason depth chart, but has seen more time in the slot (where Kendall Wright looks to have a leg up) and with rookie Mitch Trubisky working with the third-string offense. The 812 snaps Cruz played last year are the most among any receiver currently on the Bears’ roster, but being the most experienced player at the position can only take you so far. Cruz hasn’t done much to secure a roster spot outside of catching Trubisky’s first touchdown, and he has had a few notable drops.
Preseason Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns could be a make-or-break game for Cruz if he wants to crack the season-opening 53-man roster.
If actions speak louder than words, than Mike Glennon’s targeting of Wright says everything we need to know about who might get the most passes thrown their way with Meredith out of action. Wright has caught six passes for 58 yards, including Glennon’s first touchdown in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. He was also a major contributor on the Bears’ 15-play, 96-yard scoring drive on the team’s first possession against Tennessee when he hauled in three third-down passes that moved the chains.
Wright might be most valuable in the slot because of his versatility, which is something that popped up while watching film review in the offseason. Offensive coordinator unlocked Wright’s only 1,000-yard season when the two were together in Tennessee back in 2013. And because of Meredith’s injury, Wright now has a chance to re-create that magical season.
If Gentry is looking for a path to making the Bears roster, he should look no further than Meredith, who made the trek from undrafted free agent from a non-traditional football school to become the Bears’ leading receiver in 2016. Gentry was a favorite target of fellow rookie Mitch Trubisky during training camp and during preseason games. But what might help Gentry’s case the most is his increased involvement on special teams. Gentry has seen time as a gunner on the Bears’ punt coverage squad, which makes him a valuable piece to the 53-man puzzle because of his potential versatility.
While the Bears seem loaded at slot receiver, there still remains a void on the outside. This is where Gentry could really make some noise, as he did streaking down the left sideline to haul in Trubisky’s 45-yard touchdown toss against the Titans.
There was a time where Wheaton was a big-play receiver who stretched the field vertically. Sure, he had Antonio Brown lined up across the field, Le’Veon Bell in the backfield, and Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football, but the Bears still visualized Wheaton adding a different dimension to the Bears’ offense that had been missing in recent seasons.
The offense could use another playmaker, but will have to wait it out while Wheaton recovers from surgery to repair a broken finger.
Thompson was one of the first receivers to see the field with Glennon and the 1’s after Meredith was carted off. Like some other receivers near the bottom of the depth chart, Thompson could improve his case for inclusion on the roster by being a special teams contributor. Thompson has returned 49 kicks for the Bears over the last two seasons, averaging 24.8 yards per attempt.
He also made what might be the best play of the preseason with a 109-yard touchdown of a returned miss field goal.
Added to the mix in spring after rookie mini-camp, Davis has been working with Trubisky and the third-team offense this summer. He could be a long shot to make the cut, and a drop of an open pass in Sunday’s game isn’t going to help him.
- Daniel Braverman and Alton Howard are still listed on the roster, but neither has a catch this preseason.
- Josh Bellamy has missed the last two games, but had two catches for 25 yards in the preseason opener.
- Rueben Randle was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.