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What’s taking Alshon Jeffery so long to heal? ‘He’s injured’

We’ll see Alshon Jeffery on the field when we see him. Or not. In John Fox’s world, the rest of us are on a need-to-know basis. And if it were up to the Bears’ old-school head coach, we wouldn’t get even a glimpse of his team or hear a peep from the Bears until they step on the field against the Packers on Sept. 13 on the lakefront.

Not unexpectedly, Fox didn’t shed any light on Jeffery’s extended absence with a “mild calf strain” — now 21 days after the former Pro Bowl wide receiver was nowhere to be found at the Bears’ final practice of the preseason Tuesday at Halas Hall.

It’s hard to tell if Fox is being coy or ignorant when deflecting questions about injuries in general and Jeffery’s in particular. It’s one thing to be secretive about an injury, but quite another to ignore the reality in Jeffery’s case: When a player is “day-to-day” for 21 days, something is amiss. Either the injury was worse than originally diagnosed, or the Bears just aren’t very good at treating mild calf strains.

Either way, Bears fans deserved a more expansive update than the one Fox provided Tuesday:

Why has Jeffery not returned sooner? “He’s injured.”

He’s been day-to-day for three weeks. Has something gone wrong? “Not for me. It’s on to tomorrow.”

None of this will matter, of course, if Jeffery is on the field — and 100 percent — against the Packers on Sept. 13. But Fox and the Bears have lost the benefit of the doubt. They told us rookie wide receiver Kevin White would start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list because he just needed cardio work to regain his conditioning after suffering a shin injury in OTAs — no problem. Turns out White had a stress fracture that required surgery. On Sunday, safety Ryan Mundy went from being day-to-day with a hip injury to out-for-the-season on injured reserve, practically overnight.

Jeffery’s absence has had its share of red flags: The 21-day absence for a mild calf strain. On Saturday, the Bears indicated to reporters that Jeffery would dress for the preseason game against the Bengals when it turns out he hadn’t even made the trip. And through much of his recovery, we haven’t even seen Jeffery. Marquess Wilson (hamstring) and Eddie Royal (hip) were doing light work on the sidelines at practice this week. Jeffery was not even out there.

The injuries to Royal and Wilson make Jeffery’s absence even more problematic. The Bears’ top wide receivers right now are Joshua Bellamy, Rashad Lawrence and Marc Mariani. Time is getting short. After missing three weeks or more, will Jeffery even be ready to contribute against the Packers?

“It’s not like he’s sitting there eating bonbons. He’s conditioning,” Fox said. “I can’ predict what’s going to happen other than day-to-day. So we’ll assess it and the plan is hopefully we get everybody ready for Green Bay.”

Therein lies another problem facing Fox prior to the opener — on Tuesday, 13 players missed practice, including Jeffery, Royal, Wilson, running back Matt Forte (day off), left tackle Jermon Bushrod (back), nose tackles Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle) and Eddie Goldman (concussion) and linebackers Sam Acho (illness) and Jon Bostic (ankle). Forte, who has all of 14 carries in the preseason, has been given back-to-back veteran’s days off ahead of five consecutive days without practice. Anybody buying that one?

Fox, though, was not alarmed at the long list of absent players. On the contrary …

“I think it’s a sign we’re working hard,” he said. We’re trying to get ready for that regular season. I’m not overly concerned. I’d rather have guys out there. But the right now is getting the to the regular season.”