What was billed as minor arthroscopic surgery seven months ago continues to be an issue for Marshall less than two weeks before the season opener Sept. 8 against the Bengals at Soldier Field. Marshall sat out nearly the entire offseason program but returned for the final minicamp only to be shut down before it ended. He had his work monitored with regular rest in training camp and then sat out the first exhibition.
Now, the 29-year-old, four-time Pro Bowl performer still doesn’t feel right after the third hip surgery of his career. Marshall introduced the subject himself after Tuesday’s practice when he was asked an innocuous question about whether Marc Trestman’s offense was suited best for Jay Cutler?
“I mean, we’ll see,” Marshall replied. “It’s still early. I’m still trying to figure out my role and my place in this offense, trying to get healthy. We’ll see where it takes us.”
It’s a legitimate issue for the Bears, who were a one-dimensional passing team last season. Marshall, who has two years and $18.6 million remaining on his contract, has been a workhorse throughout his seven-year career. He has played in 107 of a possible 112 regular-season games, but the hip issues have added up and he admitted during the spring it’s something that could trouble him later in life.
As a physical 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, speed never has been his greatest asset. But he is strong, positions his body well and understands the nuances of the game. Some receivers can be divas if their body isn’t just right. Marshall never has presented himself as such.
“It’s more conditioning,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you may be rushed a little bit and some people might think I need to be further on than where I am. So it’s a little frustrating not being where I want to be right now and maybe being pushed a little bit. We’ll see.”
It’s hard to say if Marshall is implying he has been “rushed” back. The Bears realize he is the key to the passing game. Alshon Jeffery has made strides during the offseason but has yet to be a dependable target in the regular season. Earl Bennett has missed close to four weeks after a concussion. Tight end Martellus Bennett will help open up the middle of the field. But the passing game is going to thrive on Cuter-to-Marshall, the connection that produced 118 receptions, 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Can Trestman see where Marshall is at physically?
“I really can’t,” he said. “I mean, I watch ... I know this: Brandon is working his tail off to try to get himself ready. He feels a sense of urgency. He’s a highly competitive man, an elite player. He can only comment on how he feels. You saw him out on the field at Soldier Field. So you saw that he does have those moments where he can practice and work at a very high level. There have been days that haven’t gone so well for him and then he will bounce back.”
The struggle hasn’t been lost on Cutler, either. Marshall appeared disinterested against the Raiders. Whether that was Jeffery getting the ball seven times in the first half or the early drops, the hip issue or some combination of the factors, it’s impossible to say.
“It’s B,” Cutler said. “He’s going to take it hard for a couple of days and then he’ll snap out of it and he’ll be the guy we need next week. This week we don’t need him, so he can stay on the ledge for a couple more days and then come back next week.
“Conditioning-wise he’s a little behind. He knows where to be. It’s just a matter of him pushing his hip through things when it gets tight a little bit. Once we start getting into a routine in game week and we shorten some of these reps, we’ll really figure out exactly what routes we want him on and where we want him on the field. Hopefully things will sharpen up for his hip and he’ll be able to make it go.”
Even if Marshall is down temporarily, there is little doubt how he will produce. But the hip issue is going to be in the forefront until he can convince everyone it has been resolved.
“Brandon — if he plays every week — he’s going to have a lot of catches and certainly be instrumental in the success of our offense and ultimately our team,” Trestman said. “I don’t see that changing.”
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