Fast start for Bears’ Jeffery

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LAKE FOREST – Bears rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery made a great first impression on his position coach during a three-day minicamp that ended Sunday at Halas Hall.

That’s good news for Bears fans and bad news (for a little while) for Jeffery.

“I’ve been amazed with how well he picks things up,” Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. “For any rookie, he picks things up fast. So we’re just going to push the accelerator down, and I’ll be his worst enemy for a few days, and we’ll see where it takes us.”

If all goes well, the pairing of Jeffery and Pro Bowl teammate Brandon Marshall could take the Bears’ offense to new heights this season.

Jeffery (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) caught passes this weekend from rookie quarterbacks Matt Blanchard (Wisconsin-Whitewater) and Ronnie Fouch (Indiana State), who participated in the minicamp on a tryout basis. Jeffery’s next passes likely will come from the arms of Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell in organized team activities.

The ex-South Carolina standout said he would do his best to be prepared. The Bears traded up to acquire him at No. 45 overall in the second round of the NFL Draft.

“[I’m] just getting the playbook down and playing faster and getting a lot more reps,” Jeffery said. “And I’m just playing with confidence.”

That fact was not lost on Drake, who was impressed by Jeffery’s mental strength in addition to his physical strength and sure-handedness. Jeffery caught 183 passes for 3,042 yards and 23 touchdowns in three
seasons with the Gamecocks.

“Very confident young man,” Drake said. “Very confident. I saw that early.

“When you watch some of his college film, he took same games over in the SEC. ... He did those things against Alabama. He did those things against LSU. He did those things against Georgia. So, he’s never been short on confidence on the football field.

“Now, if you talk to him, he’s a shy guy, he probably doesn’t say a lot. But when he’s on the football field, he transforms into a guy that’s very, very confident.”

True to form, Jeffery downplayed a question about whether he thought that he had stood out in his first set of practices as a member of the Bears.

“That’s for you all to judge, if I’m standing out,” said Jeffery, who wore No. 17. “I’m just trying to get better and compete.”

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was more direct in his response.

“You could tell he has some explosiveness about him,” Tice said. “You could tell he has some ball skills. That’s why we drafted him so high.

“You could tell that he’s going to be a playmaker for the Bears for 2012, and hopefully for many years to come.”

Before that happened, Drake said, Jeffery would have to earn his playing time.

Training camp could feature strong competition among a group of receivers including Marshall, Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas and Dane Sanzenbacher. Johnny Knox’s status is uncertain as he recovers from back surgery.

“We’re going to get him ready to play, there’s no doubt about that,” Drake said. “He’s got to be on the field some. But at the same time, Earl Bennett has to be on the field at times, and at the same time, Devin Hester has to be on the field at times, and Brandon Marshall has got to be on the field all of the time.”

For years, the Bears relied on speedy but undersized receivers. By adding Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have size to go along with their usual speed.

“I think we’ve totally balanced it,” Drake said. “We’ve got two giraffes outside, and some cheetahs inside. I’m looking forward to it.”

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