When Marc Trestman became the Chicago Bears' head coach before the 2013 season, he wasn't sure what to make of receiver Alshon Jeffery. Few people did. Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft out of South Carolina, Jeffery had matched production with freakish physical talent only sporadically. He missed six games in his rookie season due to injuries, and caught just 24 passes on 48 targets for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Trestman isn't a boom-or-bust guy -- he wants consistency from his offensive players to go with the occasional splash play, and general manager Phil Emery wanted that made clear before the 2013 campaign began. Emery was on the hook if Jeffery didn't work out.
"I kind of got after him a little bit," Emery said on Oct. 7. "When I challenged his competitiveness, that young man rose up in that chair, and he looked me straight in the eye and he said, 'I can play.' In this league, to play at a high level, to become be a marquee player, you have to have extreme confidence in yourself. He has that, but he does it in a quiet way."
Emery mentioned that conversation one day after Jeffery set a Bears franchise record with 218 receiving yards against the New Orleans Saints. He did so on 10 catches in 13 targets and caught a touchdown pass for good measure.
And anyone concerned that that performance was a one-hit wonder? Well, wonder no more. On Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings, Jeffery broke his own record with 249 yards on 12 catches and two touchdowns. Perhaps the most notable play put all of Jeffery's talents on display -- in the third quarter, quarterback Josh McCown heaved the ball up in the air to Jeffery, who had single coverage from cornerback Chris Cook. Jeffery high-pointed the ball at the Minnesota 3-yard line and went all Air Jordan, maintaining his in-bounds status and rolling into the end zone.
"It was exciting to see," Trestman said of Jeffery's two scores. "The first one was great; he got off the line of scrimmage. It was a great throw by Josh [McCown], some really good protection. On the second one, that ball hung up for a long time. That was a great throw by Josh to keep it in bounds but we all saw it, he exploded into the air and elevated. That’s what we’ve seen him do; that’s what we’ve been talking about. Guys who have been with us since training camp we’ve been talking about his work ethic and his day-to-day preparation and he gets a lot of that from Brandon [Marshall]. We got to see a little bit of that today, which was great."
Sadly, the Bears won neither game. The Saints dropped the Bears 26-18, and the Vikings outlasted Chicago 23-20 in overtime. Neither of those finals should minimize Jeffery's accomplishments, however.
Jeffery had also logged games of over 100 yards against the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. He is starting to see the benefits of his offseason training in Florida with teammate Brandon Marshall, and there are now few more daunting receiver combos than Jeffery and Marshall -- they're big, fast guys who can win all kinds of one-on-one matchups all over the field.
"Alshon put in the work, and he's definitely getting the reward," Marshall said after the Saints game. "When it's all said and done, he's going to be the best wide receiver ever to come through the Bears, statistically." At this rate, it's difficult to argue the point.