Commentary

Bears' background noise

Alshon Jeffery's days of anonymity may be over after his record-setting effort

Updated: October 9, 2013, 6:06 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- While Brandon Marshall invites double-teams and citywide media coverage, fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery works in relative shadows, benefiting from single coverage, or even less when it comes to cameras and microphones.

Marshall went to the podium Sunday after a 30-yard, one-touchdown game to air his frustrations about the Chicago Bears' offense. He didn't blanch at the negative coverage that followed, speaking to reporters for 20 minutes Tuesday while giving out prizes to media members who answered questions about his charitable cause, mental health.

I don't know if Jeffery has a favorite cause or color. All I know is he can catch footballs. While we want our athletes to have voices and feelings and charitable natures, there's always room for a guy who just moves the chains.

So while Marshall suffers slights, perceived or otherwise, in public, his sidekick Jeffery excels in near silence, letting his hands, or even fingers do the talking.

"I talk to him all the time," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "I guess he's still quiet, because most of the time it's text messages. He doesn't have to really say anything. I guess he's got a way to communicate while being quiet."

In Sunday's 26-18 loss to the Saints, Jeffery had 10 receptions for 218 yards and a touchdown, setting the franchise record for receiving yards in a game. Because the Bears lost, Jeffery's game didn't get the front-page coverage it deserved. Fine by him.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBears receiver Alshon Jeffery caught 10 passes for 218 yards on Sunday.

"It's not about what I did," Jeffery said after the game. "It's about what the team did, and we didn't get the win. …There were 11 guys that took for me to get 200-plus yards or whatever I had."

Given the offense certainly doesn't revolve around Jeffery, it's a good sign that quarterback Jay Cutler trusts the second-year receiver out of South Carolina. We all remember last season's two-on-11 passing game.

"He might have been the second or third on some plays," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Wednesday. "Just because Alshon caught all those balls, doesn't mean the first read was Alshon."

With the hiring of Marc Trestman and the addition of Martellus Bennett, this season's focus was about expanding the offense. The Bears are hovering around the upper third in passing categories, and Matt Forte has run the ball effectively when given the carries. The line has been as good, or better than advertised, through the Bears' 3-2 start.

Jeffery's big game, coming off a good game the week before in another loss, is good news, and much more important than Marshall's publicity tour.

As Cutler and Kromer noted, the Bears can move Marshall and Jeffery around the field interchangeably. Jeffery's last catch, a 58-yarder that set up Marshall's late touchdown, came on a play where he's usually on the other side of the field. He can adjust.

But opportunity is what you make of it. While his star ascends, maybe Jeffery needs to hire the voluble Bennett as his media consultant to get the word out, especially since so many broadcasters still call him "Jeffries."

"I think Alshon's awesome," Bennett said Wednesday. "He had 200 yards in the game. You don't get too much more awesome than that."

It took a team, particularly one guy to draw extra coverage, to get Jeffery that record. But not every receiver could have made those catches. By making them, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jeffery could be the key to making this offense go.

Jeffery is second on the team with 28 catches, first with 429 yards and tied for second with two touchdowns. He has seven catches of 20-plus yards, tied for seventh in the NFL. Last week was his second consecutive game with more than 100 yards and a touchdown. His name will start showing up a little earlier on scouting reports, which only benefits his teammates.

"When you have a presence like B Marsh, other guys gotta step up," Bennett said. "If they're going to double-team him, whoever has the one-on-one coverage is going to win. We feel like all the other guys are going to win the one-on-one coverages, which is going to open up B in the long run, because they're going to have to stop double-teaming him.

"Now they might have to start double-teaming Alshon and now Brandon gets a chance to eat. If Alshon keeps playing like this, it's going to help Matt [Forte], it's going to help me, it's going to help Jay, it's going to help Brandon. I like it when he balls out, I'm rooting for him."

So is Marshall. For all the criticism on Marshall for airing out his grievances, he's been mentoring Jeffery since last season. Marshall trained with him this summer, which the coaches credit for Jeffery maturing on the field.

"Alshon Jeffery, he's coming," Marshall said Sunday. "He's probably going to shatter all the Bears' records by the time he's done at the receiver position."

Given that Johnny Morris is still the gold standard around here, let's hope Jeffery has the staying power.

Single coverage or not, Jeffery's catches weren't easy last week. He has shown a knack for positioning his body in the air and most importantly, holding on to the ball. With an 80-inch wingspan, Jeffery can attack the ball at its highest point.

"He does a tremendous job of adjusting to the ball in the air, even though guys have him covered," safety Craig Steltz said. "It happens to us in practice all the time, he does a good job boxing us out. He's very long, tall and has a big wingspan to adjust to a lot of balls."

A second-round pick in 2012, Jeffery was dinged up for most of last season. His commitment to improving his body is what could make Jeffery a Marshall clone.

"It started in the offseason," Trestman said. "He changed his body, he's starting to eat the right foods and he worked out with Brandon to get his body right so he could elevate his game. He came here in OTAs and training camp and practiced like it was a game every day, every single day. In training camp, from the moment we got out on the field, from stretch to drills, everything was at full speed. Now he's seeing a little bit of the product of all of his hard work."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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