Alshon Jeffery expects Brandon Marshall to blow up his phone. He expects an endless stream of encouragement via calls and texts from receiver to receiver.
“He’s just going to give me some confidence and some things to work on,” Jeffery said. “So I keep working hard.”
Monday night against the New Orleans Saints will be Jeffery’s first game completely without Marshall. Every start that Jeffery has made in his first three seasons with the Bears — 33 of 39 games — has included Marshall.
“It will be weird,” Jeffery said.
But it can be great for him.
Jeffery isn’t in need of a breakthrough. But the Bears’ final three games can be his chance to prove why the Bears believe — and why he believes — he can be a No. 1 receiver and not one who tends to benefit from the coverages that Marshall attracts.
It’s a prime opportunity starting with a prime-time game to get fans, media, players and coaches to stop referring to him as “Jefferies,” which Saints coach Sean Payton did Thursday afternoon on a conference call with Chicago reporters.
“It starts with work ethic and competitiveness, a highly, highly competitive, tremendous work ethic,” coach Marc Trestman said when asked what makes Jeffery a No. 1 receiver. “[He has a] very high football intelligence. As quiet as he is, he understands everything that’s going on on the football field. He understands techniques and how to win.
“And, he’s still growing; he’s still getting better. He’s getting an understanding of the league and defenders that he’s playing against weekly, especially when we have divisional matchups, where we see teams more than once. So this is just a growing process for him as he continues to get better.”
Jeffery’s opportunities to connect with Jay Cutler more come at a time when Marshall’s relationship with the beleaguered quarterback appears strained.
If everything Marshall does is strategic, as he puts it, then Marshall saying on ESPN Radio 1000 that he would have buyer’s remorse over Cutler’s contract or his peculiar omission of Cutler’s name during certain remarks can be perceived as signs of discord.
There’s no doubting the brotherly bond that Jeffery and Marshall have after two offseasons spent training together. But Trestman seemed ready to defend the relationship between Cutler’ and Marshall relationship.
“All I can tell you is what we see every day,” Trestman said. “We see an amicable relationship, a working relationship, a professional relationship. The only time I’m around them, basically, is when I see them here. And that’s all I’ve seen throughout the course of the year.”
Either way, the rest of the season won’t feature Marshall, while there should be plenty of Jeffery, who has 73 catches and 949 receiving yards. Jeffery’s eight touchdown catches are tied with Marshall.
Trestman expects that the Saints’ “focus may carry over to him a little bit more.” So some scheming will be required to free up Jeffery. The problem is that Marshall and Jeffery open up so much for each other.
Jeffery’s 27-yard scoring catch last week against the Cowboys was the first of his 18 career touchdowns to occur without Marshall on the field at the same time. Two of Jeffery’s eight touchdowns this season have come on wide-receiver screens with Marshall as his lead blocker.
“It will be up to the other guys that are involved in our personnel groupings to pick up some of that slack,” Trestman said.
That said, at the very least, Jeffery is healthy after dealing with a nagging hamstring injury and he seems to be picking up steam with touchdown catches in five of his last six games.
“A healthy Alshon is generally going to be a productive Alshon,” Trestman said.