With Jeffery leading pack, no shortage of options for Bears
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) If indeed this is his time, his chance to assert himself as a true No. 1 receiver for the Chicago Bears, Alshon Jeffery was in no mood to discuss it.
''I mean I'm not looking forward to anything,'' he said. ''I'm just doing my job whatever it takes for us to win. I mean whether that's me blocking, catching the ball. It doesn't matter. It's not one guy who stands out on our team. It takes 11 guys on the field. So each one of us has our part.''
Jeffery has a big one as the Bears try to shake off a miserable five-win season that led to general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman being fired.
Ryan Pace and John Fox were hired to replace them and reinvigorate a franchise with just one playoff appearance since the 2006 team's Super Bowl run.
They're banking on an improved defense and a balanced offense, one that puts more emphasis on a run game that seemed neglected under the previous regime.
That does not mean the Bears are abandoning the pass. The trade of Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets created an opening for a No. 1 receiver, and the most logical candidate to fill it is Jeffery, a Pro Bowl pick two years ago.
After all, that he is one of only five Bears receivers with two 1,000-yard seasons. And he is one of four to hit that mark in back-to-back seasons.
The 6-foot-3 receiver finished with 1,133 yards a year ago despite being a bit banged up after gaining 1,421 yards in 2013 - second only to Marshall's 1,508 in 2012.
With his reach and agility, Jeffery has shown he can be a key contributor and make highlight-reel catches.
''From the outside, I knew he was a great player, just watching all the highlight plays he makes,'' said veteran receiver Eddie Royal, who signed with Chicago in the offseason.
''Seeing it up close, he does it every day. It's not just one freak play that he makes; he's consistently making those plays. And his work ethic. He's a hard worker. He's not the most outspoken guy, he's quiet, so it could go under the radar.''
It still remains to be seen if he can be a true No. 1 receiver after teaming with Marshall his first three years. That could also have a big impact on his future, given his expiring contract.
''I think a receiver is a receiver; whether you are a 1,2,3 - all that matters is that you are on the field playing,'' Fox said. ''But I've liked what he's done and like the way he competes. He's got a big wingspan and a big ball radius as far as plucking catches away from defenders. I've liked what I've seen.''
Even if Jeffery struggles, it's not as if the Bears lack options. With rookie Kevin White, Royal and Marquess Wilson in the mix at receiver not to mention the presence of tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte, quarterback Jay Cutler should have no shortage of offensive targets.
''I think when we throw Eddie in the mix, you've got a real viable guy that you can move around a lot,'' Cutler said. ''He's got experience in the slot. He's got experience outside. With Alshon, I think he's had a great spring, a great summer. Kevin White, Marquess. We've got some guys that can make some plays in some different spots for us.''
The Bears are hoping White, drafted with the seventh overall pick, can form an effective tandem with Jeffery once his shin injury heals. Fox has described it as minor, but it has kept him sidelined so far in training camp.
Royal, signed to a three-year deal, should fit neatly into the slot. He caught 62 passes for 778 yards and seven touchdowns last season for San Diego, and he has a history with Cutler, Fox and Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase from their time in Denver.
Royal spent his first four seasons with the Broncos and caught a career-best 91 passes as a rookie in 2008, when Cutler was their quarterback.
''Just being familiar with each other,'' Royal said. ''It's just good to be together with him. We had a lot of success in Denver and hopefully it can carry over.''
Notes: Fox said Jeffery sprained his shoulder and DL Jarvis Jenkins dislocated his finger Sunday. Both returned to practice. ... LT Jermon Bushrod (back) practiced after sitting out Saturday as did TE Dante Rosario, who was excused for personal reasons the previous two days.
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