Bears rookie WR Alshon Jeffery has been earning high praise
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2012 9:10PM
Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) catches a ball during the NFL team's football rookie minicamp in Lake Forest, Ill., Saturday, May 12, 2012. (AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:49PM
BOURBONNAIS — When practice concluded Tuesday, a reporter intercepted Bears rookie Alshon Jeffery and relayed the high praise from Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman.
“The best way to say it is, he’s a Brandon Marshall in the making,” Tillman told the Sun-Times. “He has that capability to be as good as Brandon if he continues to have the work ethic and work on ball skills and work to be a better player.
“But he can definitely be on that level.”
Such a glowing comment from a veteran who isn’t known for hyperbole usually would prompt a rookie to smile and strut.
Not Jeffery, though, who shyly — and unconvincingly — said, “That’s a great compliment.”
As the Bears prepare for their preseason opener, then conclude their final week at Olivet Nazarene University, coaches and teammates roundly approve of the second-round pick, who regularly makes routine and spectacular catches. In fact, if the Bears had one of those gimmicky applause-o-meters, Jeffery’s highlights would rank among the most crowd-pleasing at training camp.
One example came on Sunday. He had a step on a backup defensive back who was on his right hip as he raced down the left sideline. But Jason Campbell’s deep throw descended toward the unknowing cornerback’s right side, forcing Jeffery to adjust inside and make a difficult reception.
While he doesn’t have blazing speed, Jeffery possesses good hands and an uncanny ability to use his 6-3 frame and 36½-inch vertical leap to haul in high passes over frustrated corners.
He also has displayed better route-running skills than some projected and a willingness to block when he’s not the featured player on a particular play.
In other words, he’s a natural.
“He’s been outstanding,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s doing everything we ask him to, showing up, working hard.
“A rookie is supposed to come in and keep his mouth shut and learn and work hard and make plays, and he’s done all of that. It’s easy to like him.”
It doesn’t go unnoticed by the coaches or veterans that Jeffery, in general, doesn’t like to conduct interviews, particularly when he’s the subject. And it doesn’t go unnoticed that Jeffery regularly totes the pads of a veteran off the field without complaint.
“Whatever you want him to do,” Smith said, “he’ll do all of that.”
In the spring, Jeffery was limited and sidelined with a leg injury, and he clearly wasn’t in optimal shape. That conjured up concerns about his senior season, when there was speculation that his weight ballooned to 240-plus pounds. But Jeffery is listed at 216 pounds, and he has looked fit throughout training camp.
“In OTAs, he wasn’t in great shape,” Smith said. “Guys don’t know what it’s like to practice on this level.
“You think you’re in good shape, but you’re not. But he got himself ready to go, and he hasn’t missed a beat.”
So will the Bears try to limit their expectations and ask him to master only a portion of the playbook?
“We like to throw everything at them and see what they can handle and then go from there,” offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. “We’re happy with where he’s at.”
Marshall suggested last week that Jeffery was further along than he was as a rookie.
“I’m sure he can learn a lot from me, but at the same time,” Marshall said, “I’ve already learned a few things … from his game.”
Starting cornerback Tim Jennings said Jeffery is “ahead of the game” and can immediately contribute to the offense.
But Jennings still sees rookie mistakes and tells him.
“It could be better,” Jennings said of Jeffery’s route-running. “But he’s young, and I think he’s going to be a special kid.”
Jeffery said there’s plenty for him to work on.
“Routes, learning defenses, concepts, being in the right position,” he said.
Then he paused.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “I just have to stay consistent and keep improving.”