Bears offense glad to have Alshon Jeffery back but clouds linger

Bears offense glad to have Alshon Jeffery back but clouds linger

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.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”