Alshon Jeffery had a career game against the New Orleans Saints in week five – a Bears single game receiving record performance, in fact. In the midst of his second season in Chicago, the big-bodied wideout is finding his stride and becoming a reliable go-to target for Jay Cutler. Across the field, Brandon Marshall is having his ups-and-downs. To be fair, a so-so season for Brandon Marshall is a banner year for most other wide receivers. 456 yards with 5 touchdowns and fifth overall in receptions thus far. But a frustrated receiver still brings with it some level of distraction to a new offense trying to find its way. Like many great pass catchers, the man Cutler refers to as “B” has expressed frustration through multiple channels. Meeting rooms are likely noisier when the number of targets coming his way aren’t to his liking. And commentary through the media has escalated as well. After a down game against the Saints, Brandon released some of his frustration. “We’re struggling a little bit and as a receiver, you always want the ball because you think you can help the offense or the team move the ball down the field… So the past few weeks have been frustrating…” Seemingly, Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler are pacifying Marshall the right way. Instead of feeding Marshall the ball through double and triple coverage, Jay is targeting the open man, inspiring Brandon – and the rest of the receiving core – to work even harder. After a quiet 30 receiving yards against the Saints, Marshall bounced back with 87 yards and 2 touchdowns against the lowly Giants. And, for his part, Alshon Jeffery is stepping up as the talented wide receiver Phil Emery thought he’d be. His breakout season – still a work-in-progress – will help accumulate wins. It will also serve to inspire and motivate Brandon Marshall, the top dog on the passing tree.
Alshon Jeffery isn’t Brandon Marshall. Few analysts claim that to be the case and the handful that do are flawed in their thinking. But he is becoming a trustworthy option for Jay Cutler the way Devin Hester, Roy Williams, Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox and a host of others were not. Jeffery’s ability to use his body to box out defensive backs and get himself open makes him a valuable possession receiver. And his long strides and knack for fighting through jams at the line of scrimmage provides the team another big play receiving option. A NFL receiver that catches with his hands – rather than his body – should be the standard but finding one that can do so in tight spaces isn’t a common occurrence. As a second round draft pick out of South Carolina, Jeffery had the raw talent to play the position professionally. But concerns about his motivation and reliability were questioned before draft day with weight issues and nagging injuries helping to shape his story. He showed up in decent shape for his rookie season and performed well enough to climb the depth chart but another stride forward was needed to conquer the NFL elite.
Enter Brandon Marshall. An off-field mentor quickly turned on-field competitor. Did Alshon Jeffery spend his off season with new Bears wide receiver coach, Mike Groh. Nope. Did he go back to South Carolina and train with former teammates? Try again. Instead, chose to accept a generous offer from Brandon Marshall to join him for workouts at the veteran receiver’s Florida training facility. Marshall saw the talented athlete Bears fans are witnessing flourish this season and made the selfless decision to invest his valuable time into a new peer. Alshon learned good habits – on and off the field. Treat your body like it’s your meal ticket. Eat right and become a workout warrior early to develop the habits necessary to stretch out your career. Develop a relationship with your quarterback to become a trusted outlet on broken plays and be a “go up and get it” receiver for Cutler the way Devin Hester could not. Stay off the coach’s bad side by being at your spot when you’re supposed to. And become an elite down field blocker to ingratiate yourself with running backs, offensive linemen and the entire coaching staff. Much was learned in the six weeks Alshon spent with Brandon and much of it was brought back north to Chicago. Its impact on Marshall were quickly seen on the field and heard through the media away from it. When Brandon feels disconnected with the offense, it’s only because defenses view him as elite and feel the need to bracket cover him. The difference between this season and last is Cutler doesn’t have to force him the ball through that double coverage – other pass catchers are actually open. Alshon Jeffery can find a soft spot in the defense and make the grab. Tight end, Martellus Bennett can put two hands in the air and actually secure balls thrown his way, something Kellen Davis struggled with during his time in Chicago. And Matt Forte is piling up yards after the catch on screen and swing passes, though the rest of the passing weapons are firing blanks for now. Brandon Marshall used to refer to himself as “The Beast” but fans may as well call him Dr. Frankenstein. He spent some of his off season creating a monster that wears number 17. Jeffery has already surpassed his rookie numbers and projects to catch over 1200 yards. In Alshon, Brandon has found someone that will press him to remain elite during an inflection point in his career. The Bears need Marshall and Jeffery to win the tough NFC North division. Marshall has helped the sophomore wide receiver take the next step in his career. Allow Brandon the air-time to be a typical talkative wideout and let Alshon be the spark that inspires him to back up his talk when he steps on the field.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com