Bears

Bears: Frustration growing around injury status of Alshon Jeffery

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Bears: Frustration growing around injury status of Alshon Jeffery

The word “frustration” came up in coach John Fox’s Monday media discussion when the subject of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was raised. Jeffery missed his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury.

“[Frustration] is understandable on all sides,” Fox acknowledged. “Our medical people are doing everything in their power as well to get him back. We’ll see what this week brings.”

No less interesting is what the future brings with respect to Jeffery, because what once seemed to be a given is now anything but.

What Marquess Wilson has done with his work over the past handful of games has been to play himself into a strategic discussion of what the Bears may do at wide receiver in the long-term future. Likewise, Jeffery, with what he’s done over the last four games, has very possibly done the same.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Wilson, a seventh-round pick from the 2013 draft, delivered one of the biggest catches of the current season with his win of a 50-50 pass against two defensive backs for in the fourth quarter. The 22-yard touchdown was one of six catches for Wilson, the second straight six-catch game for Wilson, who has gained the increased confidence of quarterback Jay Cutler, both by being where he was supposed to be and catching the football once he got there.

Jeffery has not played since Week 1 because of a hamstring injury, that following a calf pull that kept him out of the entire preseason and more of training camp than either he or the staff would like.

Jeffery is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2016. Regardless of how severe his injury is, missing time with soft-tissue injuries does not enhance market value, and Jeffery has not increased his, particularly with Wilson’s progress over the past two games.

[MORE: Fox is building an identity with the Bears in his first season]

Kevin White is one projected pillar of the Chicago Bears passing offense of the future. Eddie Royal is the presumptive No. 3 receiver. Beyond that…

The season has 11 more games to give both Jeffery and Wilson to effectively compete for that No. 2 slot opposite White. The Bears could well go into 2016 with both Jeffery and Wilson; the latter is under contract, and the former’s market price has the potential to go in different directions.

Jeffery was a second-round pick. But he wasn’t a “2” of the current front office so any contract decision will be rooted solely in performance, and Jeffery hasn’t given much to go on. The NFL is replete with one-year, show-me contracts, even for four-year veterans (e.g., Sam Acho, Alan Ball, Jarvis Jenkins, Will Montgomery, Tracy Porter, Jacquizz Rodgers) and pressure should be building on Jeffery to get on the field and show something of the 80-catch production he established over the past two seasons.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.