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Jeffery still learning the tricks of the trade

Bears rookie must use subtler methods to create separation

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

3:26 PM CST, December 22, 2012

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When the Packers effectively took away Brandon Marshall last week, Plan B was big rookie Alshon Jeffery.

Jay Cutler threw to Jeffery nine times, including in the end zone from the 1-yard line on fourth down. The Bears didn't have a single completion to show for it. Jeffery drew two defensive penalties on the throws but committed three of his own.

And if Marshall is taken away again Sunday by the best cornerback the Bears have seen this year in the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson, Jeffery will be Plan B again.

Plan C?

There might not be one. At least not a viable one.

So wide receivers coach Darryl Drake spent a little extra time with Jeffery last week going over how he can clean up the rough spots in his play.

"You just keep working at it," Drake said. "Hopefully that doesn't happen to him again. There are certain things he can do to prevent that from happening again."

For instance, if Jeffery is going to extend an arm to create separation, the arm has to be low, near the waist. Not in a defender's chest or on his shoulder.

"There is an art to it," Drake said. "He's learning. Sometimes you learn from your mistakes."

Jeffery has to figure out what he can get away with. One reality of being a 6-foot-3 wide receiver is defensive backs are going to crowd you. Jeffery's best bet to separate as he matures will be the subtle push-off.

Jeffery can learn plenty by watching the master. Marshall, who has been called for pass interference only once all season, is outstanding at legally using his arms and hands to get defenders away. He does not extend his arms. And he does not have to because he is so strong.

"A lot of it is strength, a lot of it is savvy and a lot of it is understanding," Drake said.

Jeffery still is developing in all three areas. He came out of South Carolina after his junior season, and physically he is a young player.

He needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room this offseason. Training for explosiveness also should be high on his list of priorities.

One knock on Jeffery before the draft was he struggled to create separation with his feet. Receivers who struggle to create separation sometimes have problems with interference penalties.

"He has a long way to go, but you like his upside and you like what you see," Drake said. "We just have to continue to get him growing. There is no doubt he has an awful lot of ability. The thing he can't do is get frustrated, get down. He has to understand every opportunity on the field is a learning experience."

Out of necessity, the Bears are trying to accelerate Jeffery's growth. He's being used in more routes and in more ways than he was early in the season.

Taking it slowly with Jeffery might be the ideal scenario, but it's not an option at this point. He needs to deliver, and he needs to deliver now.

"He knows it," Drake said. "We've talked about it. We'll see how he responds."

Numbers games: Offensive undoing

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Bears are struggling on offense. They have struggled on offense throughout Lovie Smith's tenure, and really throughout most of their 91-year history.

From Terry Shea to Ron Turner to Mike Martz to Mike Tice, the problems have remained.

From Chad Hutchinson to Rex Grossman to Brian Griese to Kyle Orton to Cutler, little has changed.

Since 2004, the Bears have averaged 291.9 yards per game, according to STATS. That ranks 31st in the NFL. They have scored 262 offensive touchdowns. Only five teams have scored fewer.

Their cumulative passer rating under Smith is 72.9, which ranks 31st. They have 279 turnovers, which also ranks 31st.

Bears quarterbacks have been sacked 375 times over the last nine years, which is fourth-highest in the league.

Front office chess: Missing Bush

A lot of fans thought Michael Bush could have made a difference in the Bears' loss to the Packers. He was standing on the sideline in uniform when the Packers were snuffing the Bears on the goal line.

Why wasn't Bush out there? Here is the story.

Bush had sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a rib injury. On Friday, he was a limited participant and was listed as questionable on the injury report.

But Bush was doing everything possible to play Sunday, and it seemed a good bet he would be ready come game time.

Then Bush warmed up Sunday morning. It wasn't until he came back to the locker room that the team determined he would not be able to help.

By that point, however, the deadline for naming inactive players (90 minutes before kickoff) had passed. Bush was active, but he couldn't play.

Last week, the Bears decided to put Bush on injured reserve and sign Kahlil Bell for the third time since April.

Why keep going back to Bell? The coaches have confidence in him, and he knows the offense. If the Bears find themselves back on the goal line this week, look for Bell to get the ball.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei