Q & A: rookie WR Marquess Wilson in the spotlightContinue reading.
If Bears handle with care, Marquess Wilson could be a hit
The last question in Marquess Wilson’s conference call on Saturday after the Bears selected him in the seventh round of the NFL draft came from Marquess Wilson.
”Do you know when we report?”
If the Bears truly did their due diligence on the wide receiver from Washington State, they know what they’re getting — a raw, 20-year-old kid with a lot of talent and a lot of growing up to do.
The Bears checked out the glaring red flag in Wilson’s background — in 2012, he quit the Washington State football team after nine games because of alleged mental and physical abuse by coach Mike Leach and his staff. And after doing their homework, the Bears concluded it was an isolated incident of immaturity — nothing that a locker room full of good guys can’t correct.
“I wouldn’t consider it a red flag,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said when asked if he had previous experience coaching players with similar red flags as Wilson. ”I consider it a young guy making a very, very small mistake that put him in a position that got him in trouble. I think like any young guy — I’m a parent, we’re parents here — our kids have made mistakes along the way. He’s a good kid with a big upside.
”He’s come to the right place because he’s come to a locker room where we’ve got players and coaches that will set him straight right from the beginning and get him going in the right direction. So, it’s an exciting opportunity for us to grow a young man, to allow him to mature off-the-field as well as on it. The upside as a talent, we’re very excited about it.”
The Bears have no problem trying to manage character-issue players. Kyle Long overcame a well-documented episode of substance abuse to become the Bears’ first-round draft pick (20th) overall last week. But Long is 24. His trangression is four years in his past. Marquess Wilson is 20. He quit the team last November. He hasn’t played football since.
Trestman rearranged the locker assignments at Halas Hall, mixing offensive and defensive players instead of grouping lockers by position. It might not be a bad idea to put Wilson right next to Long — a player who’s done a lot of growing up in the last four years next to a player who has a lot of growing up to do.
Unlike Long, Wilson has no interest in broaching his past.
”I don’t really want to get into it right now,” he said. ”I just want to move on and I’m excited about playing for the Bears.
”I feel I could have handled it a little better. I’m just moving forward right now.”
Sometimes, though, you have to look back to move forward.
”I’m prepared to deal with it,” Wilson said. ”I’ve grown from everything and just moving on and having a different mindset with everything.”
Emery, of course, was satisfied with the homework the Bears did on Wilson.
”Tremendous amount of work,” he said. ”Area scout — Francis Saint-Paul — did a great job. Been out there several times. Talking to people from all directions, all parts of his life.
”He’s still a very young man. We definitely did our due diligence. We felt [at that] point in the draft that a person of this kind of talent deserves a second chance.”
As for the incident itself, Wilson’s immaturity — he was still 17 years old when he started taking summer classes at Washington State pror to his freshman season in 2010 — and the old-school approach of first-year head coach Mike Leach created a cauldron of ill will that boiled over as Washington State was going through a winless Pac-12 season.
The background: Wilson was a three-sport star at Union High School in Tulare, Calif. — just south of Fresno between Los Angeles and Sacramento. He scored 17 touchdowns as a junior and 23 as a senior, including one as a defensive back with an interception. He was a two-time conference MVP in basketball and a conference champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and long jump in track and field.
He signed with Washington State when Paul Wulff was the head coach. The 6-3, 185-pound Wilson was an instant starter and had a record-breaking season as a sophomore with 82 receptions for 1,388 and 12 touchdowns. But Wulff was fired after a 4-8 season in 2011. He was succeded by Leach, who had been out of football for two years since being fired by Texas Tech after it was alleged Leach mistreated tight end Adam James after James had suffered a concussion.
Leach, whose teams at Texas Tech went 84-43 and led the nation in passing seven times in 10 years, is a successful coach. But his brash, in-your-face style is not for every player, especially in this era. After a 31-17 loss to California on Oct. 13 dropped Washington State to 0-4 in the Pac-12, Leach publicly lashed out at his ”fragile little receivers.”
”How do you drop four balls?” Leach said in a news conference. ”If your hands weren’t in the way they’d hit you in the face. Whether [the ball is] thrown by a fifth-grader or an all-pro quarterback or a machine … you either catch it or you don’t.
”We typically do it in practice, and then all of a sudden our fragile little receivers are going to go in to the end zone and get frightened … so they can’t catch the ball. That’s crazy. They just need to learn to be tougher.
”Fortunately for them, you didn’t ask me if [I] think our receivers are tough. Because if you had asked me, they certainly wouldn’t have gotten the answer they’d like to hear.”
Asked if his receivers were tough, Leach responded, ”Hell no, they’re not tough.”
Wilson had left that game in the first half with a possible concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit. Wilson returned to practice but lost his starting position for the following game against Stanford because he was outplayed by a teammate in practice. Wilson had 38 receptions for 640 yards (16.8 per catch) and five touchdowns in seven games at the time.
”If Marquess wants to play all the time, he’s going to have to quit being hot and cold,” Leach told reporters.
Wilson still had nine receptions for 100 yards against Stanford. But Leach blamed him publicly for a miscommunication with his quarterback during a potential game-tying drive in the final minute.
”He was supposed to run a comeback and he kept running downfield,” Leach said of Wilson. ”If they’re not on the same page, it’s not going to do anybody any good.”
After the Washington State lost to Utah 49-6 on Nov. 3 for its sixth consecutive loss , Leach ordered a two-hour conditioning workout on a Sunday night. Wilson walked out after 20 minutes. The following day, Leach confirmed that Wilson has been suspended.
The following Saturday, prior to Washington State’s game against No. 17 UCLA, Wilson’s step-father, Richard Miranda, released an open letter to ”Cougar Nation” in which Wilson announced he had quit the team and alleged abuse by the coaching staff.
In part, the letter said:
”I realize the school is saying that I am suspended for violating team policies and may return next week, but this is a lie. This is an attempt by the athletic department to cover up what is really happening in that locker room.
”This was going to be our year. My teammates and I were aspiring to be the winning team you deserve. Unfortunately for all, the new coaching staff has destroyed that endeavor. I believe coaches have a chance to mold players, to shape men, to great greatness. Howevder, the new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, itimidate and humiliate us.
”My teammates and I have endured this treatment all season long. It is not ”tough love.” It is abuse. This abuse cannot be allowed to continue. I feel it is my duty to stand up and shed light on this situation by sacrificing my [dreams], my education and my pride. I resign from this team. I am deeply sorry to those I am letting down. I am not a quitter. I was raised by my family, and many previous coaches to exhibit dedication and embrace sacrifice, but there comes a time when one has to draw a line in the sand.”
Wilson’s scathing letter led to investigations by Washington State and the Pac-12 conference. Leach was cleared of any wrongdoing by both investigations. Wilson sent a letter to Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, stating that no physical abuse occurred.
At his season-ending press conference, Leach said Wilson had ”basically recanted everything he said.” But Wilson denied that, saying he only clarified to Moos that the coaches were not hitting the players.
Wilson was considered a potential first- or second-round draft pick prior to his junior season, but his stock plummted after quitting at Washington State and he was considered a possible fifth-round pick. He participated in the NFL scouting combine in February in Indianapolis. But he was barred from Washington State’s pro day.
Wilson measured 6-3, 194 at the combine. He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and had a 34 1/2-inch vertical leap and 10-2 broad jump. He came out of the combine ranked 33rd among wide receivers by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. The Bears traded down 10 spots in the fourth round to acquire the seventh-round pick (236th overall) they used to select Wilson.
”He’s got size. He’s got speed. He’s productive during the times he’s played,” Trestman said. ”We felt we got tremendous value picking him up in the seventh round.”