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Alshon Jeffery Must Step Up for Bears

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Alshon Jeffery is the player, not named Jay Cutler, to watch for in Chicago this year. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Alshon Jeffery is the player, not named Jay Cutler, to watch for in Chicago this year. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall set franchise records in catches and receiving yards last season. Bears fans are thrilled to finally have a bona fide No. 1 WR, but quarterback Jay Cutler threw almost exclusively to Marshall last season.

If the Bears offense is going to become a legitimate threat, Cutler must do a better job of spreading the ball around. The receiving threat who needs to make an impact this season is second-year WR Alshon Jeffery.

The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Jeffery, who ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, was considered a first-round talent heading into the 2012 NFL Draft. Scouts questioned his work ethic and weight issues; some even said he may eat himself out of the league. This likely caused him to fall into the second-round. The Bears traded up in the second-round to snag Jeffery, just over a month after swapping a pair of third-round picks for the Marshall. Newly hired GM Phil Emery made it clear the days of Cutler trying to sling it to undersized, speedy receivers was over.

Jeffery came out strong in his rookie season last year, catching three balls for 80 yards and scoring a 42-yard touchdown in a 41-21 opening day blowout of the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field. After only one catch in Week 2, Jeffery made five grabs for 45 yards in Week 3. He scored his second touchdown of his rookie campaign in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but broke his right hand in the process, forcing him to miss five weeks.

He returned in Week 11 against the San Francisco 49ers, only to injure his knee and miss another two weeks. He was back in the lineup Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings and scored a touchdown, but didn't have an impact the rest of the way.

Jeffery reported to the Bears 2013 training camp in excellent shape and poised for a breakout year. In the first team’s preseason Week 3 dress rehearsal, Jeffery was targeted by Cutler more than any other receiver (eight times) and hauled in seven catches for 77 yards. He made a nice move after a catch to gain 22 yards and also came up short of a touchdown as he was tackled on the 1-yard line.

Cutler was able to effectively spread the ball around, which will keep defenses honest and make the Cutler-Marshall connection even more effective. If Jeffery can prove to be a reliable option for Cutler, not only will he have a breakout year, but the Bears offense as a whole will as well.

New Head Coach Marc Trestman was brought in to finally put a respectable offense on the field, and Jeffery must play as big a role in that as anyone.