By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Soft spoken by nature, Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery isn’t always the easiest book to read.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has seen different relationships with his targets — such as the outspoken Brandon Marshall or Martellus Bennett. Unlike boisterous teammates of the past, Jeffery quietly goes about his business and lets his play do the talking.
“He’s more of a go-out-there-and-do-it guy,” Cutler said of Jeffery.
Now entering his fifth season in Chicago — the most important since, well, 2015 — Jeffery has plenty to prove. He’s playing out the year under the franchise tag parameters, needing to show he’s elite.
Jeffery, 26, is either viewed as a premier receiver deserving of that top tier or a fragile player not worth the money. It all depends on whom you ask.
Just don’t ask Jeffery about that.
“I’m just here playing football, having fun,” he said. “It’s a game I’ve loved to play since I was young. I’m just playing football. Everything else, it will take care of itself.”
Following a 2015 season in which Jeffery missed seven games, he has been a presence during the preseason. After missing more than a week with a hamstring ailment, Jeffery surprised with a return for the first preseason game. He wanted to be back out there. Jeffery played the next two games, earning a night off in Cleveland for the preseason finale.
The Bears are hoping that Jeffery and second-year receiver Kevin White can complement each other and become one of the league’s formidable receiving tandems.
During practice, Jeffery has shown a different side. From the vantage point of the sidelines, it’s clear he’s taking charge. There seemed to be a highlight catch each day. He’s ready to be that top target for the Bears. Cutler sees it each day.
“His drive is there,” Cutler said. “He wants the ball.”
Added Jeffery of Cutler: “We got a great connection. I know what he’s thinking, he knows what I’m thinking.”
When healthy, Jeffery has performed at a high level. He posted a career-best 89 receptions in 2013 and 87 in 2014, tallying 10 touchdowns that season. More importantly in present context, Jeffery played two full 16-game seasons.
Jeffery has to show to general manager Ryan Pace that he can stay healthy and be productive, something he failed to do last season in a pivotal contract year. Pace wasn’t around before 2015, so Jeffery needed to perform in front of the general manager’s eyes. Consider that season a waste.
Bears teammates see the traits in Jeffery that could bring success. They believe in what he can bring, not only because of past production but with that work ethic each day.
“A hard worker, an amazing football player,” receiver Eddie Royal said. “We all see it on Sundays, but I don’t think everybody sees the work that goes into it. I can appreciate it, just seeing it every day, day in and day out, how hard he works.”
Tribulations of 2015 didn’t diminish Jeffery’s personality. Teammates enjoy his jovial personality, which doesn’t often show to those with whom he’s not close.
When Jeffery is on the field, it’s clear that he’s a different player. Motivation seems to be a constant as Jeffery looks to show what kind of receiver he can consistently be.
“Just give it my all,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery won’t let on more than that. His play typically does the talking.