The over-arching story of the day may have been Alshon Jeffery, the franchise-tagged wide receiver who has trained elsewhere all offseason rather than with the team and new coordinator Dowell Loggains. But the play of the day did not involve Jeffery directly and represented what the Bears envisioned for their offense when they drafted Kevin White to bookend the receiver corps opposite Jeffery.
The moment came late in Tuesday’s first mandatory minicamp practice as White brought in a touchdown pass on a contested catch. The score sent the entire offense into mass celebration, something the group has had to endure the other way, with a whooping defense chirping away on myriad plays as the offense has lurched through its learning curve under Loggains.
The throw did not go to Jeffery but one critical concept within the offense is for Jeffery and White to prevent defenses from swarming to shut done one at the risk of leaving the other open. For that reason, Jeffery’s presence was a factor and teammates knew it.
“I was so happy to see him this morning,” said guard Kyle Long. “Even happier when I saw him in the huddle and we were calling passing plays, and even happier when I’m seeing him make huge catches in traffic. I told him, I said ‘Dude, it’s great to have you back.’ I understand he’s dealing with all of that stuff, and that’s none of my business, but to have him out here ... the defense has been celebrating too much, so to have our secret weapon out there was good.”
Jeffery has not been a “secret” weapon the past couple of seasons, given his production and Pro Bowl attendance. But he has been a secret, or at least an unknown because of his decision to stay away from Halas Hall for all voluntary sessions, even while being in Chicago to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for a Wrigley Field seventh-inning stretch.
“Me and my agent talked about it and felt it was best for me to train somewhere else,” Jeffery said on Tuesday. “I just felt it was the best situation for me.”
The organization would unquestionably disagree, beyond any casual slighting of the workout programs and facilities put together for players.
Jeffery has signed his franchise tag, guaranteeing him $14.6 million for the 2016 season. He and the Bears have expressed hopes for a multi-year pact, which would presumably pay Jeffery in that range for several years, and the two sides have until July 15 to conclude a long-term deal. At that point, the tag sticks.
Under the circumstances, the lack of that deal suggests that the Bears are comfortable with the money for this year, but less so the durability of Jeffery, who missed all of seven games and significant portions of two others last season.
For his part, Jeffery is downplaying any suggestions that injuries were even an issue in 2015.
“I just think injuries played a little part in that,” Jeffery said. “But overall, as a team, not just for me, we didn’t do well. We didn’t make the playoffs. That’s the main goal. To win the division and make the playoffs. So it’s not what I did. It’s overall as a team.
“I mean I did some things this offseason to prevent them, but overall with injuries, this is the game of football. There is a 99 percent chance you are going to get hurt.”
What the Bears are willing to risk financially on that math will remain a point of discussion for the next four weeks.