Bears waiting on Alshon Jeffery to provide downfield threat


Bears waiting on Alshon Jeffery to provide downfield threat

Alshon Jeffery, who was limited (again) in practice on Thursday has more optimism about playing this Sunday in Detroit (“a lot better than last week,” Jeffery said) than he has had for any of the Bears’ last four games (all of which he missed) because of a hamstring strain. The offense has out-gained opponents in three of those, all but the Seattle game.

But the Bears rank 31st in yards per pass attempt (6.1 yards), meaning that the football is not going deep downfield very often. Not all of it can be laid at the foot of protection questions, with the Bears 18th in sack percentage; not great but not catastrophic, either.

The Bears have 17 pass plays of 20 yards or longer but only 10 of those have come from wide receivers, and Jeffery accounted for two of those in the one game he played (Green Bay). Jeffery has had longest catches for 80 and 74 yards the past two seasons and through five games this year the Bears have none longer than 50 yards.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie WR Kevin White does some light work at practice]

The twin hopes are that Jeffery will be active Sunday in Ford Field and that he will bring something that has been sorely missed by the 2015 Bears offense.

“I think we’re going to be able to open things up a little bit,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “We haven’t really been able to attack down the field. A lot of our guys… ‘Q’ [Marquess Wilson] has tried to do a good job with what we ask him to do.

“[But] I know Alshon is a special cat. The way that he goes up and gets the ball, it’s rare to see. I know there’s a few guys that can do it, but it seems like a contested throw, he wins a lot. Like [receivers coach Mike] Groh always would say, ‘He’s an above the rim player,’ and there’s not a lot of those guys around the league.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

Jeffery actually is, literally, an above-the-rim player. He was a four-time state champion as a member of the Calhoun County (S.C.) High School basketball team.

“[Not playing has] been frustrating at times, but I have great teammates and great coaches, and great people around me that are keeping me in good spirits,” Jeffery said. “We'll evaluate it. Let's just see what the coaches say and see how it feels. [We’re a] couple of days away from Sunday, so we'll see.”

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.”