By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Often times in the NFL, a team is nothing more than its prior record entering the preseason.
Coming into training camp, guard Kyle Long stated that he was well aware of the “league-wide disrespect” for his Bears, who followed a 5-11 mark in 2014 with a 6-10 record last season. So, the Bears shipped up to New England last week tired of hitting each other and met the Patriots ticked off.
Receiver Alshon Jeffery was tasked with matching up with Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler last week in New England. They sparred Monday in practice. The next day, they made up, then Jeffery beat Butler deep.
The Bears’ receivers needed an opportunity to compete against another colored jersey. Jeffery missed seven games last season, as did Eddie Royal, and Kevin White missed his entire rookie campaign.
After departing from New England, Jeffery has little doubt what the receivers can do.
“Just dominate,” Jeffery said Sunday. “Take over the game.”
There’s potential for the Bears’ receivers. Jeffery and White could become a formidable tandem, and the hope is for Royal to serve as a reliable slot target. Add in Marc Mariani, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Josh Bellamy and more, coached by an acclaimed veteran in Curtis Johnson, and their belief is evident.
Injuries will be the most important factor — they always will be — as Jeffery, White and the Bears look to put up big numbers for Jay Cutler.
Nobody knows for sure whether Jeffery can stay healthy and productive after an injury-riddled season in 2015. At the least, Jeffery is sure fired up during this preseason. White is a mystery of his own, having played just two years at West Virginia and two preseason games in the NFL.
Ideally, Jeffery can go out and prove he’s an elite receiver, and White will develop into a premier prospect.
“He’s an explosive guy,” Cutler said of White. “He’s a physical specimen.”
Jeffery is playing a role in helping White use his 6-foot-3 frame to become a more physical player. White is fine with the finesse game, but Jeffery is helping to show how to play with his hands.
Throughout the preseason, White has made some spectacular catches and fine-tuned his game to become a more polished player. That development took some time after a year of rust to shake off.
Now comes the part of putting it all together.
“I just told him to play physical because he’s big, he’s strong and he’s fast,” Jeffery said of White.
The Bears have built their offense around Cutler, putting Jeffery and White opposite each other as the primary pillars to the unit.
For now, it’s unknown what Jeffery, White and the Bears’ receivers can become. Like their team, the group still has to prove its place. However, Jeffery isn’t lacking confidence.
“We’re going to set the tone,” Jeffery said. “That’s the way we feel, that’s what we look forward to against anybody.”