For Bears’ Alshon Jeffery, fat was then, this is now
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter September 6, 2013 11:10PM
Alshon Jeffery says he’s down to 7 percent body fat after a diet change, and the Bears see the difference on the field. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Updated: October 9, 2013 7:42PM
His body of work is his body’s work.
What Alshon Jeffery lost this offseason — body fat — he has gained in explosiveness, agility and the respect of his Bears teammates.
‘‘He’s stronger,’’ cornerback Tim Jennings said.
‘‘He just glides around,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said.
‘‘You see a totally different player,’’ wideout Earl Bennett said.
Coach Marc Trestman’s offensive attack promises more balance entering Sunday’s opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Jeffery, the second-year wide receiver, will be a beneficiary, especially with Earl Bennett returning from a concussion and Marquess Wilson a rookie.
Jeffery spent the offseason ensuring as much.
Much was made of his offseason pilgrimage to Weston, Fla., where he was mentored by teammate Brandon Marshall and his longtime trainer Matt Gates. But in two stints at Fit Speed Athletic Performance — for six weeks starting in February and three more before fall camp started — Jeffery learned as much about what he puts into his body as about what his body puts out.
The center’s chef delivered meals to his hotel laden with lean protein — fish, bison and chicken — and food that had never been frozen.
In February, Jeffery had 11 or 12 percent body fat.
By April, he was down to 10 percent.
Now, Jeffery said, he’s at 7 percent.
That’s a drastic reduction for someone who played his last season at South Carolina at 230 pounds.
‘‘He walked past all these cookies they had laid out [Thursday],’’ Bears wide receivers coach Mike Groh said. ‘‘He said, ‘That’s the old me. I don’t do that anymore.’ ”
The 6-3 Jeffery, who eats most meals at the training table, said he weighs 216, about the same as last year.
But cutting body fat is the hardest to do, Gates said, and maybe the most important.
The right percentage allows players to be explosive and still recover quickly.
‘‘You need to be big,’’ Gates said, ‘‘and you need to be lean.’’
Jeffery said he learned from Marshall ‘‘what it takes to be a pro,’’ and that includes nutrition.
‘‘It’s your job,’’ he said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do . . . Eating the right foods, taking care of your body and doing the right things. You’ve gotta invest in your body.’’
That investment could pay off for the Bears. Jeffery had 24 catches for 367 yards in 10 games (six starts) last year despite missing four weeks with a hand injury and two more with a knee problem.
On Sunday, he’ll line up as a starter, across from Marshall, who can’t possibly be targeted as often as he was last season, when 40 percent of Bears pass attempts — a league high — went his way.
‘‘He’s been impressive because he’s changed his body from college,’’ offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said of Jeffery. ‘‘He’s really worked to become a fit athlete.
‘‘So, that was his first step. He had the talent, and now his talent shows up on an every-play basis because he is in shape to do it.’’
The skills are easy to see.
‘‘You can cover him all you want to,’’ running back Matt Forte said. ‘‘If he’s got jump ability and those long arms, it’s hard to play through him and get to the ball.’’
Jeffery has ‘‘tremendous hands and ball skills,’’ Groh said. ‘‘He really rips it out of the air. Attacks it.’’
Martellus Bennett compared him to mercurial NBA player Zach Randolph, who’s so smooth he looks slow. That’s a compliment.
‘‘When [Jeffery] runs, it doesn’t look like he’s running,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘But he’s running past everybody.’’
That’s the plan, seven months in the making.
‘‘Just work hard,’’ Jeffery said, ‘‘and sky’s the limit.’’