Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
“Once upon a time, a Bears receiver named Brandon Marshall reminded us that he’s 6-foot-5 and that there weren’t many defensive backs out there that could match up. He and Alshon Jeffrey were supposed to be a mismatch nightmare tandem for seasons on end. Alas, that wasn’t to be. While I’m as excited as the next fan about the offense’s potential, I worry about the shorties catching the ball: [Taylor] Gabriel, [Anthony] Miller and Tarik Cohen. That said, wouldn’t it be ideal for [Allen] Robinson and Kevin White, both 6-3, to start on the outside with Gabriel filling in where he naturally fits, in the slot? I keep hearing that Gabriel and Miller can play outside. Seems like a recipe for Cutler-esque interceptions to me. – Greg M., South Side
“I wouldn’t put [Jay] Cutler’s propensity to turn the ball over on the Bears having short wide receivers in the past. I think the Bears have a good blend of skill position players when you think about skill sets and where coach Matt Nagy can line them up on the field to attack opposing defenses. I think Gabriel and Miller have the ability to play inside and outside and remember that the slot receiver is as important as ever in today’s NFL. [Mitch] Trubisky did a nice job of minimizing turnovers last season. He threw only seven interceptions in 12 games. I don’t know that the height of Gabriel and Cohen is a reason to think picks will pile up. Keep in mind that Miller measured 5-foot-11 at the scouting combine.”
I agree with Biggs that the height of the Bears receivers in recent years had little to do with turnovers. But I think it had a definite effect on the offense as a whole. From the very first year that he arrived in Chicago, Cutler made it clear that he preferred larger receivers, for instance, when he characterized former Bears speedster
Johnny Knox Devin Hester as “not a go and and get it, guy”. Cutler wasn’t trying to be openly critical about it and he didn’t indicate that he was uncomfortable with Knox. But it was evident that larger receivers was what he was used to and that’s what he wanted. It wasn’t a coincidence that the first guy he befriended in Chicago was the biggest receiver on the field, 6’5” tight end Greg Olsen. The same thing happened in Miami when he hit the field and immediately sought out the 6’3” DeVante Parker. Cutler was far more comfortable with big receivers who could fight for a 50:50 ball in the air.
In a similar vein, I think what the Green Bay Packers did this off-season was interesting. The Packers are facing far more man coverage than they used to nowadays. For instance, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prefers this kind of coverage and we can anticipate that new Lions head coach Matt Patricia will prefer to run the same kind of defense he did in New England.
The Packer’s response? Sign the 6’7” Jimmy Graham at tight end and draft a huge group of wide receivers in J’Mon Moore (6’3”), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6’4”), and Equanimeous St. Brown (6’5”) to go with the 6’3” Geronimo Allison. As I pointed out on a recent podcast, these players are going to present huge match up problems for teams who don’t have the corner backs and safeties to match up with them in coverage.
Having said that, I do think there’s a reasonable chance that Trubisky will handle an offense with shorter receivers better than Cutler did. For one thing, as the fan who wrote the question points out, if White and Robinson both turn out to be good, he won’t have to make due with those shorter receivers all the time in every situation. For another, he has an offensive head coach in Matt Nagy who should know how to take advantage of the better speed and agility that shorter receivers tend to have.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Antonio Brown, I’m sure many fans moaned about the fact that he was only 5’10” and predicted that he’d be strictly a slot receiver. We know how that worked out. Similarly, I think we won’t know too much about the Bears current configuration until we give them a chance to succeed.