BOURBONNAIS — Soft-spoken rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery doesn’t talk much, but his game is coming through loud and clear.
The second-round pick from South Carolina has been one of the most impressive players in camp from Day One.
He led the Bears with 4 catches and 35 yards in an otherwise lame team effort in the preseason opener. But the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder doesn’t have a whole lot to say about his game or his accomplishments.
In one of his wordiest responses of camp, he offered this: “I’m just trying to work every day and still trying to learn the offense and still trying to read the coverages and trying to make plays and play fast.”
As a training-camp promotion for fans attending Saturday’s practice, the Bears handed out life-size headshots of Jeffery on a stick. The 22-year-old was characteristically low-key.
“That’s for the fans,” he said. “I don’t get into the hype and all.”
There’s really no need for Jeffery to talk himself up because coaches have been doing it all camp.
He had yet another impressive practice Saturday afternoon, at one point leaping over starting cornerback Tim Jennings in the end zone to pluck a high pass from Jason Campbell out of the sky for a touchdown.
“Alshon Jeffery played well Thursday night also,” coach Lovie Smith said after practice. “He was one of the few guys we were pleased with as far as his effort and being able to make plays. He’s a good football player, and he’s getting more and more confidence.”
In just three seasons with the Gamecocks, Jeffery had 183 receptions and accumulated 3,042 receiving yards, the most in school history and the second most in SEC history. His 23 career TD catches tied the school record.
Jeffery’s physical attributes are obvious, but as Smith points out, there are additional aspects of his game that have helped the newcomer make an instant impact among a group of talented veterans.
“He’s got good size,” Smith said. “He’s got excellent hands. He takes coaching well. We could talk on him for a while. We’re so pleased with what he did (Thursday night).”
Back in April, some considered Jeffery a first-round prospect. But he fell to the Bears at No. 50 overall after slumping in 2011, partly as a result of the Gamecocks’ fluctuating quarterback situation.
There also were concerns about Jeffery’s weight, which at times ballooned to more than 230 pounds, and his lack of elite speed.
Jeffery is never going to win a footrace with Devin Hester. But he has exhibited great leaping ability, and he has a big enough frame to be open even when he’s “covered” by a smaller defensive back.
On Thursday night, Denver’s 5-9 cornerback Tony Carter was all over Jeffery on a second-quarter play. But the big man was able to screen the defender from the ball and make a 9-yard reception.
“As you look at receivers, you want to see production,” Smith said. “You’ve been watching it. From OTAs, we were talking about how good his hands were.
“That’s just carried on, and he’s carried that to every situation we put him in. When you give a guy reps you want to see him perform and make plays, and he’s been doing that.”
In recent years, even first-round wide receivers have struggled to produce as rookies in the NFL — the Bears’ David Terrell leaps to mind — but wide receivers coach Darryl Drake doesn’t anticipate Jeffery’s effectiveness diminishing once the regular season begins.
“He’s going to be out there,” Drake said. We’re going to have a four- or five-man rotation. Devin Hester’s going to be doing a lot of work on the (punt and kickoff) returns, and it’s good to have a guy like Alshon Jeffery that you can put in there.
“He’ll be in there a lot, no doubt.”
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