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Brandon Marshall mentors Alshon Jeffery in private workouts

The Chicago Bears AlshJeffery (17) during practice Halas Hall Lake Forest Ill. Wednesday April 17 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times

The Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery (17) during practice at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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When he received an invitation to train with Brandon Marshall in South Florida, Bears second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery automatically accepted.

“I just wanted to learn from someone different and do things different,” Jeffery said. “Plus, he’s a Pro Bowl player. I want to see what it takes.”

For six weeks, starting in mid-February, Jeffery rented a place near Fit Speed Athletic Performance, a training facility in Weston, Fla., co-founded by Marshall and his longtime trainer Matt Gates. More than a dozen players regularly participated in workouts, including current Bears Martellus Bennett, Armando Allen and Evan Rodriguez, as well as other notable players such as Chad Ochocinco.

But Marshall looked forward to getting his hands on Jeffery, who flashed some potential after the Bears selected him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Jeffery was a Biletnikoff award finalist in 2010 after catching 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns at the University of South Carolina.

Jeffery’s stock dropped, though, in 2011 due to a couple issues. First, his production dramatically dipped, in part, because of South Carolina’s struggles at quarterback. Second, his weight reportedly ballooned into the 230s.

“The thing that we focused on the most was showing him how to keep the right team together to keep himself in tip-top shape,” Marshall said, highlighting a nutritionist, trainer, chiropractor and masseause. “It’s tough for a kid to trust someone, especially at this level. But he trusted me and said, ‘OK Brandon, I’m going to follow your plan.’ He did that, and we saw the results at the end.”

When he arrived at Fit Speed, Jeffery weighed in at 225 pounds with a body fat percentage of 11 or 12 percent. When he checked out a few weeks ago, Jeffery weighed 219 pounds with eight percent body fat.

“Alshon made tremendous strides,” said Gates, Fit Speed’s co-owner and director. “He’s a really good kid, a really hard worker. He doesn’t say much, but I like that.”

Marshall said he had to get a little “creative” since he was recovering from hip surgery and spending most of his time getting treatment, stretching or riding a bike. But just as important as the in-gym sessions was the time they spent together away from the training facility.

“We always talk about the things he’s been through,” Jeffery said of Marshall. “I appreciate and admire him a lot, but I’m still learning from him.”

Jeffery also added that Marshall has imparted on him that there can’t be any days off.

Gates said that’s what separates Marshall from other athletes. He’s trained Marshall since he was at the University of Central Florida, and they’ve forged a partnership as their relationship grew.

Although he’s 29, Marshall, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, set career highs in catches (118), receiving yards (1,508) and receiving touchdowns (11) in his debut season with the Bears.

“You’ll see guys who are physically gifted, but they don’t work hard, and that’s what sets Brandon apart,” Gates said. “He gets better every single year. That usually doesn’t happen when a guy hits 28 or 29, and they hit the downward spiral.

“But he works his butt off.”

Marshall is limited at the Bears’ voluntary workouts. But he and Jeffery will return to the Miami area in mid-June to resume training with Gates until the Bears open training camp in late July.

The Fit Speed focus in June and July will be on one thing.

“Explosive speed,” Gates said. “And they will do very football-specific [drills].

“We’ll hit it hard.”

Jeffery can’t wait.

“I learned a lot, and I look forward to going back down there,” he said.

As for his second NFL season, Jeffery said he has high expectations.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “The sky is the limit.

“I can’t wait for the season.”

Marshall admitted Jeffery is way ahead of him right now. But, more importantly, he’s impressed at how far Jeffery has improved and learned.

“The kid is like a sponge,” Marshall said. “He soaks up everything. He was just paying attention and taking it all in and running with it.

“I’m so proud of him, man.”

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