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Offense comes up big in red zone

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 31, 2013 – 5:45 pm

The Bears defense boasts several talented Pro Bowlers. But the unit could have used a step ladder or an NBA power forward during a red-zone drill late in Wednesday’s practice.

Taking advantage of a size differential, Jay Cutler threw touchdown passes to 6-3 receiver Alshon Jeffery, 6-4 receiver Brandon Marshall and 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett.

“We’re very lucky,” said coach Marc Trestman. “We thank [general manager] Phil [Emery] every day when we come off the field that he was able to bring in guys with this kind of size and girth, and we’re going to do our best to try to put them in a position to have success.”

Jeffery leaped high in the back of the end zone to snare the ball over 5-11 safety Major Wright, while Marshall hauled in a jump ball over 6-2 cornerback Charles Tillman in the corner.

“It’s good to have a situation like that where you can throw some fades into the side of the end zone,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “And when you have to cover 53 yards in the end zone, it makes it tough.”

Other big targets in the Bears passing game include tight end Fendi Onobun (6-6) and receivers Terrence Toliver (6-5), Marquess Wilson (6-4) and Marcus Rucker (6-4).

“We’re got some big dudes out there,” Cutler said. “You just kind of have to put it up high, and they understand football, which makes it nice.”

Cutler has especially enjoyed bonding with Bennett, a complete tight end who signed with the Bears as a free agent after spending his first five seasons with the Giants (2008-11) and Cowboys (2012).

“He’s a joy to play with on and off the field,” Cutler said. “He brings a little bit of energy. He brings some edge to the huddle and he’s like a Brandon Marshall [in that] he’s really smart out there, understands defenses and knows where the holes are. It makes it easy on me.”

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Marshall takes leadership role seriously

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 19, 2012 – 5:47 pm

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall isn’t surprised that the statement he made following Sunday’s loss to the Packers that “everyone on offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,” was polarizing.

“When you make a comment like that, it’s almost guaranteed you are going to rub some people the wrong way, and then there are some people that might respond to it in a positive way,” Marshall said Wednesday at Halas Hall.

When asked about accountability Wednesday, Marshall spoke solely about how he needs to improve his game in terms of run blocking, route running and technique. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver is encouraged that others are also looking in the mirror to see how they can improve.

“People are responding in a positive way,” Marshall said. “You’re hearing the word accountability being thrown around. You’re hearing guys starting to look at themselves, and that’s what it’s about.”

Marshall sees himself as a team leader for the first time in his seven-year NFL career.

“This is a new role for me as far as leadership,” Marshall said. “I know I am not perfect. Maybe I am approaching it the wrong way. But there are different ways you can lead. You can lead by example. You can lead by encouragement. You can lead by speaking and bringing energy. You can lead by sometimes calling guys out. It depends on the situation.

“I’ve been reading a lot of books on leadership, studying documentaries on some of the greats like ray Lewis and Michael Jordan and their approach to the game and more importantly just leadership.

“This is my first year really being in this role in a positive way. I have always been a guy in the locker room that guys counted on on the field making plays. As far as bringing the group together, that’s different. I just have to be patient and continue to control what I control and if I do that I can sleep good at night.”

Marshall concedes that it isn’t easy being a leader in a team sport.

“It’s definitely tough sometimes when things don’t go the way you expect them to go,” he said. “It gets frustrating, especially when the person that may be in that role is really passionate and really loves this sport.

“This game has done a lot for me. I remember when I first got here I told you guys that the NFL saved my life. I look at where I come from, the environment. I look at my journey these past six years. If it wasn’t for the NFL, I don’t know where I would be.”

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Marshall continues to shine as top target

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 5, 2012 – 3:23 pm

When the Bears took over at their own 14 with :20 remaining after falling behind 17-14 last Sunday against the Seahawks, there was little doubt who quarterback Jay Cutler would look to.

Three of the team’s top four receivers were out with injuries and the last man standing, Brandon Marshall, has three times more receptions than any of his teammates this season.

Despite that certainty, Marshall was still able to haul in Cutler’s 56-yard heave, setting up Robbie Gould’s 46-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to force overtime.

Asked how he and Cutler have been able to connect with such regularity even though opponents know who the ball is going to, Marshall said: “We go where they’re not. It’s as simple as that.

“Jay gives me freedom out there and coach [Mike] Tice gives me freedom out there to adjust without our offense and our scheme. Jay is the type of quarterback where he has such a strong arm that it doesn’t have to be a rhythm throw all the time or timing.

“A lot of times he may read me or I may read a coverage and we’ll be on the same page. That’s the fun part about playing this offense is the freedom to adjust. It’s been clicking.”

Marshall ranks second in the NFL with 91 receptions and 1,182 yards. He’s on pace to shatter Bears single-season records with a career-high 121 catches and 1,576 yards.

Even though injuries to Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery have depleted the receiver position and forced the Bears to rely even more on Marshall, he’s fine with the extra workload.

“Especially this time of year, I want the pressure,” Marshall said. “We have four games left and our goals are still ahead of us, so if I can carry a larger load, I expect it. I’m prepared to do that. I expect to carry a bigger load this time of year and I actually want to pick up my play. However the team needs me moving forward I’ll be prepared and ready.”

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Marshall wants to face Seattle’s best

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 28, 2012 – 4:40 pm

Seahawks cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are facing four-game suspensions for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. But the appeals they filed won’t be heard this week, meaning both will play Sunday against the Bears.

And that’s just fine with receiver Brandon Marshall, a physical 6-5, 230-pounder who is eager to see how he fares against the 6-4 Browner and the 6-3 Sherman.

“It’s different because it’s not what we call the prototypical corner,” Marshall said. “They present some different challenges, but I am excited about this match-up. I am happy they are playing. I am really excited they are playing. That’s good for the game, and I am ready to compete.”

There’s little doubt that quarterback Jay Cutler will continue to target Marshall, whose 81 receptions are 59 more than the Bears’ next wide receiver, Earl Bennett, who has 22. But the size the Seahawks boast at cornerback could force the Bears to make some changes.

“Brandon’s usually the biggest guy out there outside and he kind of does what he wills and throws guys around,” Cutler said. “It’s a different match-up for him. Bigger guys are going to grab, pull and get up in his face, so we’re going to have to attack it a little different. I’m going to talk to ‘B’ to see what he’s comfortable running.”

The way Marshall performed in last Sunday’s win over the Vikings, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Minnesota’s cornerbacks were seven-feet tall. The Bears receiver caught 12 passes for 92 yards, often with defenders draped all over him.

“He’s a special player,” Cutler said. “I knew it from Denver playing with him. He makes things easy for me. He’s a competitor. He wants the ball at all times and whenever he gets in that zone I think he was in Sunday, just feed him the ball, find a way. If B’s not No. 1 in your progression, go to him anyway. He just makes it happen.”

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Cutler, Marshall surprised by Allen hit

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 28, 2012 – 1:10 pm

Having played against Jared Allen twice a year in the AFC West, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall agreed that the cheap shot the Vikings defensive end delivered last Sunday was out of character.

On Antoine Winfield’s interception return early in the second half, Allen launched himself into the head of Bears guard Lance Louis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the play. The NFL has reportedly fined Allen $21,000 for the illegal hit.

“He’s not that type of player,” Cutler said. “I was surprised by it, to be honest. He’s not that type of guy. He plays extremely hard. He usually does things the right way. I’ve always respected him. It kind of caught me off guard.

“You look at the play and he hit him in the head. He did all of the things he shouldn’t do. Whether there’s a fine, it’s going to be up to the league office. But I don’t think it’s indicative of the player or person he is.”

As Broncos teammates, Cutler and Marshall played two games a year in 2006-07 against Allen, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Chiefs before being traded to the Vikings in 2008.

“He has always been a competitor and a good sport, so that shocked me seeing that play,” Marshall said. “I know he plays aggressive and he plays physical, so I wasn’t surprised by him cracking back. But to launch at Lance’s head, that was a little shocking.”

On Monday, coach Lovie Smith and defensive end Israel Idonije called the block “unnecessary.”

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Marshall takes pride in mental ability

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 31, 2012 – 3:20 pm

Watching 6-4, 230-pound receiver Brandon Marshall, it’s obvious that he possesses the size and strength to consistently win one-on-one battles. But that’s not the only reason he excels.

“Physically, we all know what he can do,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Behind the scenes, I don’t think people realize how smart and gifted he is mentally within the game of football.

“He knows my reads. He can call the plays in the huddle. He knows where everybody lines up. He could play [every receiver position]. He’s extremely smart. His ability to adjust in the middle of routes depending on coverages is extraordinary.”

Marshall takes pride in the mental aspect of the game.

“That started back in high school when I noticed the guys were faster than me, so I had to be a little crafty in my route running,” he said. “My father used to always teach me the game and how to run routes and be quarterback-friendly. So being with a quarterback who understands leverage and body position made it easy for me and it makes it easy on our offense.”

With 50 receptions for 675 yards through seven games, Marshall is on pace to set Bears single-season records with a career-high 114 catches and 1,542 yards.

Cutler believes that his long-time teammate—first in Denver and now in Chicago—has matured, saying: “He’s a different receiver. I would say better. He understands the game a lot better. He takes care of his body. He’s there every single day getting better.”

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Marshall says Cutler has ‘clutch gene’

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 31, 2012 – 2:39 pm

Receiver Brandon Marshall solicited nicknames from the Chicago media Wednesday to describe Jay Cutler’s ability to perform at a high level late in games.

The Bears quarterback leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 132.0, ahead of the Broncos’ Peyton Manning (119.6) and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (110.6).

“A couple weeks ago I was trying to figure out a name,” Marshall said. “I texted him over a few nicknames like ‘The Closer’ and ‘Ace.’ I’m trying to figure out a nickname for him, so if you guys can help me out, I’d appreciate it. Jay’s one of those guys where he has that clutch gene. You hear guys talk about it and some believe in it, some don’t. But Jay has it.”

Cutler demonstrated that gene last Sunday when he led the Bears to a 23-22 comeback win over the Carolina Panthers. Trailing 19-7 midway through the fourth quarter, he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis and then set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired by engineering a nine-play, 55-yard drive.

In the first three quarters, Cutler completed only 7 of 14 passes for 80 yards with one interception, two lost fumbles and six sacks. In the fourth period, he connected on 12 of 14 passes for 106 yards with one touchdown and a 122.0 rating.

“We know what [Cutler] can do,” said center Roberto Garza. “If you give him time, he can connect with those big-time receivers that we have out there. We’ve been practicing that [two-minute drill] since we started training camp, getting the work in, and it obviously paid off.”

Part of Cutler’s success in the fourth quarter this season can be attributed to the Bears protecting leads against defenses that are stacking the box to try to stop the run.

“Our defense is putting us in positions where we’re leading games and [opponents] are trying to get the ball back, [playing] a lot of single high [safety], which makes it a lot easier on the outside throwing the ball,” Cutler said. “We’ve hit some big plays out there. The way our defense is playing and carrying leads into the fourth quarter makes my job easier.”

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Marshall, Johnson on collision course

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 18, 2012 – 2:05 pm

Tied for ninth in the NFL with 35 receptions, game-breaking receivers Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson will battle for bragging rights Monday night when the Bears host the Lions.

“Two No. 1 receivers you’re going to see on the field Monday night, they’re about as good as you’re going to see in the league this year,” said coach Lovie Smith. “That should be worth coming to the game just to watch the two of these guys play.”

In his last two games, Marshall has caught 19 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first Bears receiver to top 100 yards in back-to-back contests since 1999. He’s not, however, viewing Monday night’s game as a one-on-one battle with Johnson.

“I just have to be the best wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and play my role,” Marshall said. “If it’s catching 10 balls one week of if it’s two or three the next week and blocking in the run game, it’s the same for me.”

Johnson has compiled 558 yards in five games this season, but has scored only one touchdown. Last year the Lions star had 96 receptions for a NFL-high 1,681 yards and 16 TDs.

“He’s as advertised,” Marshall said. “On my iPad I have probably the top 10 receivers. I won’t mention who’s in my top 10, but he’s definitely one of them. I really like what he’s doing. I really like where his career’s headed. He had an amazing year last year, so a lot of guys are trying to keep up with the pace that he set.”

In the Bears’ 37-13 win over the Lions last Nov. 13 at Soldier Field, Johnson was targeted 19 times but had just seven receptions for 81 yards. Cornerback Charles Tillman did an excellent job containing him, breaking up two passes and returning an interception 44 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ll have to be able to slow him down a little bit,” Smith said. “We’ll have to in order to be able to win the football game. This isn’t a new team we’re playing. They have great talent over there, but we played them before, so we feel pretty good about our chances just like they do.”

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Winning trumps everything for Marshall

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 4, 2012 – 4:45 pm

In seven NFL seasons, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has smashed records and been voted to three Pro Bowls. But for someone who has never been part of a team that has qualified for the playoffs, winning trumps all individual accomplishments.

“I want the ball all the time,” Marshall said. “I want the ball every single play. But I’m wiser now. I know there are going to be weeks where a team is just going to take me out of the game. There may be weeks where Alshon [Jeffery] may be hot. There may be one-on-one coverage all around the board, but it may be Alshon’s day or Devin [Hester's] day.

“As long as we’re winning games, I’m happy. I have a nice contract. I’m on a nice team. I’m pretty secure. The only thing I don’t have is wins. That’s what checks my ego at the door is being in this position and knowing that we have a chance to win and do big things.

“At the end of the day, whether I put up 100 catches or 80, as long as we’re winning that’s all that matters. Now I do know the NFL is all about production-what have you done for me lately-so I’ve got to keep myself in position to make those plays when it comes to me.”

With 23 receptions for 352 yards through four games, Marshall is on pace for 1,408 yards, which would eclipse Marcus Robinson’s Bears record of 1,400 yards set in 1999.

While Marshall understands that quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t going to regularly throw the ball into double and triple coverage, the 6-4, 230-pound receiver is confident that he can consistently win one-on-one battles with cornerbacks.

Marshall has done just that in the last two games, snatching jump balls away from the Rams’ Cortland Finnegan and the Cowboys’ Brandon Carr for receptions of 34 and 30 yards, respectively.

“God blessed me with a big frame,” Marshall said. “Since I’ve been in the league I’ve never been a guy who has three and four yards separation. That’s not my game.

“My game is putting myself in position where I’m between the ball and the defensive back so when a ball is in the air I pride myself on just making that play almost like a rebounder on the basketball court. I don’t expect to get huge separation. I’m not Devin Hester. I’m not fast. But I do try to take advantage of what I do have, and that’s my size.”

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Players pleased officials will return

Posted by Larry Mayer on September 27, 2012 – 3:44 pm

Like the rest of the football world, Bears players are happy that the NFL’s regular officials will be back on the field this weekend after agreeing to a new labor deal with the league late Wednesday.

“Getting those guys back, I think it’s just going to clean up the game,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Games are going to move along. The indecision is going to go away, which I think is the biggest thing you’ve seen across the league is just the indecisiveness.”

“It’s good to have those guys out there,” added center Roberto Garza. “They know what’s going on. They are up to speed with the game and the way things are called and as quick as everything happens now. So they will have that taken care of.”

While receiver Brandon Marshall is pleased that the regular officials are returning, he sympathizes with the replacements and the slew of criticism they’ve taken.

“I’m just happy it’s over,” Marshall said. “We get some of those guys back that we’re familiar with and hopefully the game is a little cleaner.

“But when I look at it I have a lot of compassion for those [replacement] refs. When you take those guys and throw them in the fire so quickly, everyone’s dogging them and that’s tough, man. So I’m glad that it’s over, but at the same time those guys did the best that they can do and I appreciate that.”

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