By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Marquess Wilson’s ascending role in the Bears’ offense was put on hold Monday when the second-year wide receiver suffered a fractured clavicle in practice.
The injury occurred when Wilson dove for a pass from Jay Cutler and landed awkwardly on the ball.
“I just couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I landed on the ball so I couldn’t really breathe.”
Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that Wilson had suffered a significant injury, as he couldn’t move his right arm and was carted off the field.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “He was continuing to ascend. That’s football, unfortunately. We will pray for his recovery as soon as we can get things done that need to get done.”
No timetable was given on Wilson’s return, but the receiver said he hopes to play this year. He added that they were still in the process of determining if he needed surgery. The prognosis is important, as it will go a long way in determining how the Bears handle his roster spot. Here are their options:
1) Place Wilson on season-ending injured reserve, which would immediately open up a roster spot to add another wide receiver. However, Wilson would not be eligible to return this season.
2) Place Wilson on injured reserve with a “designation to return.” This would make him eligible to return to practice after Week 6 of the regular season and eligible to play after Week 8. The catch here, however, is that Wilson cannot be placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list until after the 53-man roster is established, meaning the Bears would have to cut another player if they want to add an extra wide receiver to training camp. Also, only one player can be given the “designated to return” label each season, meaning the Bears wouldn’t be able to use it again this year.
3) Wait it out. If the Bears feel like Wilson could return before Week 8, they might just want to keep him on the 53-man roster when the season starts. Of course, he’d be taking up a precious roster spot, but remember, only 46 players dress on Sundays.
Depending on the prognosis, this could be a hard decision for the Bears. Is Wilson a critical enough player to use the team’s one “designated to return” label? Is he polished enough to jump right back in mid-season and contribute as the No. 3 wide receiver? If the injury isn’t deemed season-ending, these are questions the front office surely is pondering.
Of course, the toughest part of Wilson’s injury is that it possibly could have been avoided. Trestman encourages his players not to dive for balls in practice.
“That’s the hardest part of coaching in practice,” Trestman said. “You hear us say all the time: ‘Stay off the ground. Stay off the ground.’ Diving for balls is one of the most difficult things not to do when you’re a competitive player. We promote (not diving). We talk about it a lot, but in my experience, it’s very difficult to stop. When a guy goes to make a play on the ball, you’re not going to be disappointed with him if he doesn’t go to the ground. You’ll never do that and the team will know that. And when they do, you just try to encourage him on the next play to stay up and unfortunately he tried to make a play and we know what happened.”
It’s certainly hard to blame Wilson for trying to make a play. He’s a competitive player who has impressed the coaching staff with his hard work and dedication to learning the offense. Drafted in the seventh round in 2013, Wilson stuck with the team last season despite not playing much and was being groomed into the Bears’ No. 3 wide receiver this year.
“It was just second nature,” Wilson said outside the ONU cafeteria with his right arm in a sling. “I look back at it and I probably shouldn’t have done it. But it just happened.”
The blow is a big one for the Bears, who also lost Domenik Hixon to a torn ACL during the team’s first OTA practice back in May. Hixon was supposed to be Wilson’s primary competition for the No. 3 job, but Wilson had softened that blow a little bit by getting off to an impressive start in training camp.
The Bears will now look to veterans like Eric Weems and Josh Morgan to fill the role, although Chris Williams, Josh Bellamy, Michael Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Dale Moss will also have their say. Given the magnitude of the loss, GM Phil Emery could look outside of the organization as well.
Is former Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett an option? He’s still available after getting cut by the Browns in June. The Bears released him in March after he refused to take a pay cut. Bennett knows the offense and has a good relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler, but here are some fair questions: Why did the Browns cut him just a month after signing him? And why is he still available?
Another option may have been Jon Baldwin, who was a first round pick of the Chiefs when Emery was still in Kansas City, but Baldwin was claimed by the Lions Monday just one day after being waived by the 49ers.
Other notable wide receivers still without jobs include Santonio Holmes, Danario Alexander and Austin Collie, although all three players would come with serious injury concerns.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.