Bears' Jeffery must build on natural ability

Rookie receivers often progress slowly because they must develop technique against NFL talent

BOURBONNAIS — The transition to the pro level isn't always easy on rookie wide receivers. As they no longer are able to rely on pure athletic ability to win down the field, technique becomes the key to production and growth.

Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery is experiencing that right now at training camp in Bourbonnais. Call it the "developmental" stage as a college resume doesn't buy you a thing against NFL defensive backs.

"The speed of the game tells me I'm in the NFL," Jeffery said. "It's a lot more faster."

Route-running, speed out of the break, vertical stem and the ability to separate are coaching points that you often will hear when breaking down young talent at the position. To develop those skills takes time, constant repetition and a dedication to practice like a pro.

Talking with defensive backD.J. MooreFriday after practice, the veteran described Jeffery as "raw."

I can see that in him while watching drills, one-on-ones and 7-on-7. Jeffery is a long strider. His challenge will come in lateral movements, quick change of direction when working the underneath three-step passing game and at the top of the route stem where detailed footwork comes into play.

He will need to force the corner to open his hips, create more cushion and break off the route with a sharp angle back to the ball.

Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett show that during drills or one-on-one sessions. Clean footwork shows up with veteran receivers as does the ability to set up a defensive back and run through the break. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

Jeffery isn't at that stage yet, which is expected with a rookie early in camp. This is when you make corrections based on film study and are taught valuable lessons on the field from the vets. There's nothing wrong with getting beat during camp if you learn from it.

Jeffery's potential is obvious. His size and length (6 feet 3, 216 pounds) creates good matchups, plus he will climb the ladder, compete and attack the ball.

"His ability to catch the football, he does a great job of getting in and out of his breaks for his size," receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "As he learns to use his body to body up people and do those things, he's only going to get better."

From a playbook perspective, think "leverage" with Jeffery such as inside breaking routes where he can use his size to shield off defenders in man-coverage, the slant route, inside vertical seam, skinny post, the curl, etc. The Bears can move Jeffery around in various alignments and put him in a position where he can apply some stress to the secondary.

In the red zone? Throw it out there and allow him to go up and make the play. Jeffery can bring that to an offense if he continues to work on his game.

Remember, this a process, a journey when you start to compete at this level. Jeffery will begin to see press-coverage, understand the importance of using his hands to get off a jam and to limit the wasted movement at the line of scrimmage.

"Gotta go out and play," Jeffery said. "I mean, just make plays. Just gotta get open."

Jeffery is confident, but this isn't a pick-up game down the street at the park. Not here. In a league where everyone can run, technique is crucial to seeing success outside of the numbers.

And now the daily grind begins for Jeffery. Up and down. That's the drill. Take some lumps, get knocked around and start to develop the techniques necessary to add to the game plan during the regular season.

A reasonable goal for a rookie going through his first NFL training camp.

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
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