Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: Five Things to Watch For

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What’s the Status of the Bears’ Receiving Corps?

We’ve talked a lot on this site about the Chicago Bears returning to a run-first offense, due to Cutler’s limitations and the offensive line’s pass-blocking struggles, not to mention the Bears’ quality depth at running back.

That wasn’t meant to insinuate, though, that the Bears’ couldn’t and shouldn’t try to throw the ball. Cutler’s arm is still top notch, they have a great tight end and have … er, had … a great receiving corps.

May 27, 2015; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) during organized team activities at the Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, the passing game is looking incredibly hobbled, with Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, Kevin White and Marquess Wilson – the top four receivers on the roster – all battling injuries. Jeffery hasn’t played in the preseason due to a calf strain; Royal has a recently revealed hip injury; White’s missing at least the first six games of the season after undergoing surgery on his shin; and Wilson tweaked his hamstring against the Colts.

According to ESPN, Bears Coach John Fox on Friday wouldn’t rule Jeffery, Royal or Wilson out for the game Saturday against the Bengals, but it seems doubtful they’ll play as the Bears look to at least have a mildly healthy receiving corps when they start meaningful games in September.

That’s the right decision for Fox to make, but it’s disconcerting realizing that the Bears’ offense is in a position where teams won’t have to worry about the passing game at all because of injuries if this situation doesn’t improve. They’ll focus on stopping Forte and his backups, limiting the effectiveness of the running game. If the receiving corps doesn’t get better, I foresee a rougher than expected start to the season.

In the meantime, hopefully Cutler has had a chance to learn the names of his top four receivers in Saturday’s game: Cameron Meredith, Rashad Lawrence, Marc Mariani and Josh Bellamy. Both Meredith and Lawrence had solid games against Miami, while Bellamy had a decent game against the Colts, including a 42-yard reception called back on a penalty. Mariani has played well on special teams as a return man, but hasn’t contributed much on offense. This is their chance to shine, and to do so against a pretty good Cincinnati defense.

If the Bears are lucky, one or two of them – I’m thinking Meredith and Lawrence – could prove worth using more in the season as the starters get healthy, but I’m not sold on any of them. One good preseason game against scrubs does not a quality receiver make.

Next: Into the Great Unknown