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Durkin's 2015 Bears Position Preview: Wide Receiver

By Dan Durkin—

Editor's note: This is the sixth piece in a series previewing the 2015 Bears as the first training camp practice approaches July 30. You can find them in one spot here as they're posted.

(CBS) Amid the orchestrated chaos that takes place after the ball is snapped, football is a game of individual matchups.

Each offensive play has an opportunity to score points if it's executed exactly as it's drawn up on the board, but that's a rare occurrence. The sheer speed of NFL defenses -- particularly along the front -- and changes to the rule book have encouraged teams to throw the ball.

Coaches are constantly seeking any schematic advantage they can get, and one recent transformation has changed the landscape of how offense is played -- the switch from a two-running back base offense to a three-receiver base offense.

Teams realized that attempting to outrun teams to the perimeter with running backs can be a fool's errand. However, when teams began subbing out a fullback for a wide receiver to challenge an opponent's third defensive back, success followed. Thus, "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) is now the norm, and teams are able to run their entire playbook from it.

Looking at the Bears' top three wide receivers generates some optimism about the offense's potential this fall.

Likely starters:
Split end: Kevin White (22, rookie)
Flanker: Alshon Jeffery (25, fourth year)
Slot: Eddie Royal (29, eighth year)

Other competitors: Marquess Wilson (22, third year), Joshua Bellamy (26, first year), John Chiles (26, first year), Rashad Lawrence (23, first year), Cameron Meredith (22, rookie), Levi Norwood (23, rookie) and Ify Umodu (22, rookie)

Key contributor: Alshon Jeffery

Jeffery has established himself as a legitimate coverage-dictating receiver in the NFL. While not a burner, his long strides hide his deceptive speed, and he's a proven target in every passing zone. He's quick enough to take a smoke or "now" route and beat his man in short yardage, is physical and long enough to use his body to shield defenders from the ball on intermediate routes and can stack vertically on deep routes.

Entering a contract year, Jeffery is incentivized to perform. He's led the team in receiving yards the past two seasons and has 17 touchdowns.

New Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase will find as many ways as possible to get the ball into Jeffery's hands. Only the New Orleans Saints threw more passes than Gase's Broncos the past few seasons, and Jeffery's an ideal fit for several of Gase's base schemes -- levels, mesh, high-low and in the screen game.

Without Brandon Marshall's presence any longer, Jeffery will deal with coverage being rolled his way more frequently. But he's a leverage player and a hands catcher who works well in traffic and contested situations. The extra attention his way will open up opportunities for teammates, but he'll still see a high volume of targets with which he will make impact plays.

Potential breakthrough player: Eddie Royal

It's taken six seasons, but Royal is reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler. Royal's rookie season with Cutler under center for the Broncos in 2008 was his most productive as a pro.

Royal may not be as twitchy as he was early on in his career, but he's a more savvy route runner and plenty quick enough to win from the slot. Over the past three seasons in San Diego, he's developed into a legitimate red zone threat.

The field shrinks vertically as offenses get closer to the goal line, which creates more opportunities on horizontal concepts -- like rub routes -- which suit Royal's game perfectly. Of his 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons, 10 have come within the 20-yard line.

Gase will certainly find ways to isolate big targets like Jeffery, rookie Kevin White and tight end Martellus Bennett, but Royal will see a lot of meaningful targets in the Bears' red zone and short-yardage packages.

Final thoughts: Considering where this group was after the Marshall trade and where it is now, general manager Ryan Pace deserves a lot of credit. He rid the team of a divisive force and also a redundant piece in Marshall. Last season, the weapons in the Bears' passing arsenal all won with leverage and length. None of them could put stress over the top of a defense or win laterally on option routes from the slot, which invited defenses to play closer to the line and suffocate the intermediate passing zones.

Bringing in Royal and White has diversified the skill set within the group. They now have a legitimate slot receiver in Royal and a rare size-to-speed split end prospect in White.

Given the sheer volume and creativity Gase has shown within his screen game, White will have an immediate package of plays designed to minimize his reads and maximize his run-after-the-catch skills. In a loaded rookie receiver class, he has the highest ceiling. His biggest challenges will be learning the full route tree and making route adjustments based on how coverage unfolds after the snap.

Marquess Wilson's collarbone injury last season affected his development. The potential has always been there for Wilson, who's another size/speed prospect. He just hasn't put it together on a consistent basis. The addition of White will reduce Wilson's snaps with the first team, but he's a solid No. 4 receiver and can be part of three-wide packages based on the game situation.

This is a strong group of targets for Cutler, all of whom he has familiarity with other than White. In total, the potential is there for this to become the best position group on the team.

Position grade: B-plus.

Dan Durkin covers the Bears for and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.

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