By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — When Jay Cutler dropped back on the second play of a two-minute drill Monday and threw a 30-yard dart to the end zone, most would have expected to see Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery pulling the ball into their arms for the touchdown.
Instead, it was second-year undrafted free agent Joe Anderson who made a beautiful diving grab to complete the two-play drive.
At 6-1, 196, Anderson caught the eye of coaches in Bourbonnais a year ago and earned a spot on the Bears’ practice squad. By the end of the year, he was contributing on special teams on the 53-man roster, but now a new coaching staff is noticing his play on offense as well.
“He’s had a good camp,” head coach Marc Trestman said Monday after the team’s fourth training camp practice. “He’s shown strong hands. He’s shown the ability to get open in tight coverage and he’s coming out every day to compete. He brings added value because he’s a good special teams player, as well.”
Special teams was Anderson’s ticket to the playing field last year and will likely play a big role in his efforts to make the 53-man roster out of camp this season. But his receiving abilities clearly have the Bears excited as well. The fact that he was even on the field to catch Cutler’s second pass of the day proves as much. Brandon Marshall sat out Monday’s practice as he continues to monitor his hip, which is why Anderson found himself with the first team along with Jeffery and Earl Bennett.
Anderson’s presence on the field during the two-minute drill was an indication that he is currently viewed as the fourth wide receiver on the team, ahead of Eric Weems, Devin Aromashodu and rookie Marquess Wilson. If the Bears do indeed keep Devin Hester on the team solely as a kick/punt returner, it’s likely only five receivers make the Week 1 roster. So for Anderson, sitting fourth on the depth chart is significant.
“I wasn’t a draft pick or anything like that. I’m not complacent, I’m not content, I’m not satisfied,” Anderson said after Monday’s practice. “I want more, so to get more you got to do a little. When you do good with a little, you get a lot more.”
That’s exactly what he did Monday, taking advantage of his best chance to shine with the starters by catching the touchdown pass from Cutler. It’s an indication of his growth from a year ago when the receiver from Texas Southern was somewhat overwhelmed by an NFL camp.
“Mentally, I wasn’t ready,” Anderson said about last year’s camp. “I came from a small school, not knowing much. Didn’t really understand defenses like that. We were just going out there playing. Now I have to know mentally why they do this — more so why and not just going out there doing it. Just having more of an understanding of everything now.”
Anderson isn’t as quite as big as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but he does fit into the mold of general manager Phil Emery’s preference for larger wide receivers. And, with his ability to flash on special teams, it’s probably a big reason why he is apparently in front of Weems and Aromashodu, despite Weems having a solid special teams reputation as well.
Of course, Monday he was technically filling in for Marshall, so maybe he’s gunning for the No. 1 job.
“I didn’t tell him that, but I’m going to make him work for it,” Anderson joked.
That’s a little unrealistic, but the Bears certainly don’t mind the confidence.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.