Sixth in a 13-part series of previews for Bears training camp.
Mike Groh was at a coaching clinic in Dallas in mid-February when he received a call from the Bears.
Was he interested in the team's wide receivers job?
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Groh didn't know there was an opening a month after Marc Trestman has been hired but he got involved quickly and soon was added to complete the new staff.
It's the first job for Groh, 41, in the NFL since 2000 when he worked as an assistant for the Jets the year his father, Al Groh, was head coach. He arrives after spending the previous two seasons at Alabama and three of the past four years working under Nick Saban for the Crimson Tide.
Interestingly, he didn't have ties to Trestman, general manager Phil Emery or any of the other assistants.
"I didn't have any goal to (jump to the NFL)," Groh said. "I was just fortunate enough to receive a phone call and be given an opportunity.
"I really enjoyed my time at Alabama. One (season) in '09 and we won the championship and then the last two I was there. So, 39-2 and three championships."
He says the Bears present a rare opportunity and Groh takes over a unit led by Brandon Marshall, who had the single-greatest season for a wide receiver in franchise history in 2012 with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven 100-yard games. If Marshall duplicates that production this year, he will be 11th on the franchise's all-time list for receptions and 13th in yardage. That's what happens when an organization is quarterback challenged for decades.
The goal for Groh is to build the group around Marshall. It's a unit that many believe chronically underachieved under former receivers coach Darryl Drake. But in his defense, it quickly becomes a chicken-and-the-egg discussion when you talk about struggling quarterbacks and underachieving wideouts. From 2004 through 2011, the club's leading receiver had 42, 64, 60, 71, 51, 57, 51 and 37 catches.
Groh's project begins with Alshon Jeffery, the second-round draft pick from a year ago who flashed promise when he was on the field. Jeffery had 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns but missed six games with knee and thumb injuries.
"I'll say this about Alshon: He's really invested," Groh said. "I have seen improvement in the very short time I have been able to work with him. He certainly has tremendous potential."
Preview: Marshall, Jeffery and Earl Bennett make up the top three at the position. A broken hand and a concussion cost Bennett four games in 2012 but he flashed the promise the team has been looking for in the season finale at Detroit when he made five catches for 109 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown. Bennett can be used all over the field but he's most effective in the slot.
Where it gets interesting is after Bennett with nine other receivers competing for the wide open final two or three spots.
The six most prominent of those nine include Joe Anderson, an undrafted rookie in 2012. He showed enough as a practice squad player to get promoted to the 53-man roster late last season. He has the ability to play special teams and Cutler has talked him up previously. Eric Weems was signed a year ago to boost special teams but his contributions to the offense were minimal and it's hard to see that changing.
Then, there is Marquess Wilson, the slender playmaker from Washington State who was drafted in the seventh round. It will be interesting to see if he's strong enough to gain separation from NFL cornerbacks. Devin Aromashodu is back for a second stint with the team but did little with a wide-open opportunity with the Vikings. Golden Brittan flashed a little last summer and is back again. The biggest signing bonus the Bears gave to an undrafted free agent this spring was Iowa State receiver Josh Lenz. But he was quiet in the offseason program.
There is no shortage of opportunities and the players know this. Practice reps are going to be at a premium but the depth chart looks as open as it has been in a long time after the top three, and with Devin Hester no longer considered a part of the group.
Glass half-full: Marshall remains an elite playmaker but doesn't post the same numbers he did a year ago as Cutler spreads the ball around to Jeffery, who manages to remain healthy, and Bennett, who plays up to the December 2011 contract extension he received.
Glass half-empty: Marshall's hip plagues him at the start of training camp and the chemistry is an issue because the Bears didn't have their wide receivers deployed as they would like for one day during the offseason. With Marshall missing virtually the entire offseason following arthroscopic hip surgery in January, it's fair to wonder if the issue will impede him in the regular season.
Coaching change: Groh inherits a group that has a little bit of everything. A fresh voice in the room and a new way of looking at things could aid the offense. A former quarterback at Virginia, Groh has college experience as a play caller.