By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Every year there is that one player who shines late in the first preseason game and gets the fan base all excited.
Of course, if that player is making noise late in the first preseason game, it means he’s doing it against third-string opponents.
Bears’ seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson was that player Friday night in Charlotte, as he finished the preseason opener with four catches for 82 yards, including a 58 yard catch-and-run that nearly went for a touchdown.
A new year, a new player, but the same question: Camp darling or legitimate threat?
More often than not, the answer is camp darling. But Wilson could be much different. He may have been a seventh-round pick, but he had early-round potential and fell because he quit the Washington State football team last year after not seeing eye-to-eye with the new coaching staff. Quiting on a team can get you shunned pretty quickly in the NFL, but Bears general manager Phil Emery saw the potential and knew Wilson was worth a chance that late in the draft.
Now it’s just a matter of the wide receiver living up to that potential.
Until his performance in Friday night’s preseason game, Wilson was only seeing time with the third-string offense, but after shining against the Panthers, he’s now been moved up the second-team and the Bears’ coaching staff wants to see him sustain the success he had last week.
“Consistency is a big thing, working hard on what you did the previous week or the previous practice and taking it to the next level the next day,” Wilson said after Tuesday’s practice at Olivet Nazarene University.
But on top of being consistent at wide receiver, it would also greatly help Wilson’s case to make the 53-man roster if he can contribute on special teams — an area he doesn’t have much experience in. Wilson’s contributions to Washington State’s offense were so large (he’s the schools all-time leading receiver) that they didn’t want to risk losing him on special teams.
“I don’t know why, but it wasn’t something the coaches wanted me to do,” he said.
Wilson’s speed can be valuable to the special teams unit, but he needs to show he can be physical as well.
“We’d like to see what kind of a contact player he is,” special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “We’ve all seen him run but we need to see what kind of contact player he is. We’re looking forward to it this week.”
After not getting any special teams looks in practice last week, Wilson is seeing plenty this week and you can bet those reps are coming as a result of the potential he has shown as a wide receiver. In the NFL, backups are usually required to contribute on specials teams in some form, and the Bears want to see what Wilson can do.
“It’s a different opportunity, a nice chance just to be out there and showcase something I can do on special teams, something I’m not used to,” Wilson said. “I’m just adapting to it and taking full advantage of it.”
DeCamillis said that even though Anderson didn’t receive any special teams looks last week, he has been involved with the units in the past, both on coverage units and blocking units. Monday he saw some time as a gunner.
“Those practices now are more important than they ever were because of the way the schedule is and we’ve tried to make it as competitive as possible,” DeCamillis said. “So he’s seen what he’s going to see. It’s just going to be at a faster pace this week.”
Wilson doesn’t have to look far for motivation. Last year, undrafted free agent Joe Anderson showed enough in training camp as both a receiver and a special teamer to make the practice squad. Eventually he was promoted to the 53-man roster by the end of the season and now appears to be the fourth wide receiver on the team.
The problem is, Wilson’s ceiling is higher and it’s doubtful he would clear waivers to return to the practice squad should he not make the 53-man roster out of camp. Thus, he’s on an accelerated learning curve.
Right now, Wilson said reading the defensive coverages is the biggest thing he is working on, but he’ll also add some upper body strength over time, despite already showing the ability to get off jams at the line of scrimmage.
“I would like to (add strength), but I just play with what I have,” Wilson said. “It’s nothing special, I just like to get them off me.”
It may not be special now, but that’s exactly what the Bears hope to see from their seventh-round pick in the coming weeks. It sure would make the decision-making process a lot easier.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.