In an effort help solve the Chicago Bears’ seemingly fated struggles at the wide receiver position, freshman general manager Phil Emery brought in a total of four wideouts prior to the 2012 season; most notable, of course, was three-time Pro Bowler, and former Jay Cutler teammate, Brandon Marshall.
In the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Emery traded away his fifth-round pick (150th overall) to the St. Louis Rams in order to move up five spots and select South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery in an effort to bolster the position even more.
Bears fans understandably welcomed the SC’s all-time leader in receiving yards with open arms and high expectations.
Fast forward a seemingly endless Training Camp and 13 games into the regular season later, and the verdict is still out on Emery’s move. While Jeffery marked some success early on, catching three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown on opening day against the Indianapolis Colts, injuries have kept him off the field for a total of seven games this season.
I had an opportunity to speak with Jeffery on Tuesday, and I asked him if his rookie NFL season has been mostly positive or mostly frustrating.
“It’s been positive,” Jeffery told me. “Even when you’re injured, if you can’t play, you sit on the sideline and you watch. You watch what your teammates are doing and do what you need to do to contribute and tell them what you see happening in the game and what’s going on.”
Jeffery returned to action against the Minnesota Vikings last week following a two-week recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. Despite a key drop late in the game, he played well, catching three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Jay Cutler.
When asked how his knee felt following the return to action, Jeffery told me it felt fine. He’s expected to practice fully this week.
On the other side of the field, Brandon Marshall is having a career season for the Bears, shattering single-season franchise records with ease. Through 13 games, he’s bested his career receiving numbers with 1,342 yards.
Good, bad or otherwise, Marshall is one of the most targeted receivers in the League, and Lovie Smith has made it clear that the other players on the roster need to step up in order for the offense to find consistent success.
“It’s big,” Smith said. “When you get to this point in the season, we’re going to need more guys stepping up [on offense].”
One of the players expected to do just that is certainly going to be the player you moved up in the Draft to select. So I asked Jeffery if that pressure motivates him to be the guy to fill in those gaps on offense.
“We all need each other,” Jeffery said. We’ve all got to make plays, and we’ve all got to hold each other accountable to make plays. We all try to pick up some things from each other. We talk about it all the time, but for us it’s just go out and play your game, move around, make plays and find a way to get open.”
Having lost four of their last five games with the playoffs fast approaching, the Bears are now struggling to find ways to win and secure their position in the postseason, and they are in very real jeopardy of missing it altogether. Jeffery says the sense of urgency is there, but they can’t get caught looking ahead; something that may have been a part of their recent struggles to begin with, having started the season 7-1.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” Jeffery said. “But at the same time we’ve got to take it one game at a time, one play at a time. You just go out there and play your game, listen to the coaches, and play better.”
If there’s one player in the locker room who knows that, Jeffery says, it’s Jay Cutler. And many believe the Bears’ championship hopes rest on the shoulders of their starting quarterback and whether or not he can carry them to, or better yet through, the playoffs.
“Jay’s a great guy, great player,” Jeffery said. “Off the field he likes to have fun, but he’s the most serious player out there. It’s know your job, do you job. Just go out and make another play. He just wants you to be great.”
For the Bears to achieve their goals this season, they’ll need guys like Jeffery to step up and be great.
2012 aside, the long-term success of Chicago’s offense will be partly defined by their second-round pick, and Brandon Marshall intends to make sure that story has a happy ending.
“He’s gonna be working out with me [in the offseason],” Marshall told the media last week. “It’s tough as a rookie going from bowl games to training for the Draft and training for minicamps. I think this year, I think us working together in the offseason will really help him stay a little healthier and get those bones a little stronger.”
When asked about Marshall’s comments, Jeffery laughed and said, “I’m definitely looking forward to it. He talks to me about it all the time.”
Alshon Jeffery is currently involved with the Pepsi MAX Rookie of the Year program and asked that we encourage fans to vote each week for the Rookie of the Week and the Rookie of the Year.