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Bears can dare to dream big with Alshon Jeffery-Kevin White combo

Bears wide receiver Kevin White. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

BOURBONNAIS — Alshon Jeffery called the Bears’ receiving corps the best in the NFL, but even he quickly realized that’s a little outlandish.

“I don’t really know who’s got the best receivers [in the NFL],” said Jeffery, the Bears’ former Pro Bowl wideout. “All I know is I believe in my guys.”

That kind of belief in your teammates is a rite of training camp — like when Brandon Marshall predicted Jay Cutler would win the league’s MVP award in 2014 (Aaron Rodgers won in a runaway; Cutler, who finished 17th in the league in passer rating, was not among the six vote-getters). But watching Jeffery and Kevin White participate in an in-season practice for the first time Thursday at training camp Thursday provided the first tangible evidence that Jeffery can dare to dream.

Even in shorts, even on the first day of training camp, the immense skill of both players is difficult to miss. Jeffery made the play of the day, leaping over three defenders to snare a tipped ball for an 80-yard touchdown. White showed similar leaping ability — incuding one catch over the middle on a play where he and Jeffery line up one-behind-the-other in a 7-on-7 drill — to go with size and speed that eclipses even Jeffery.

The Bears have earned the “league-wide disrespect” that Kyle Long referred to Wednesday at Olivet Nazarene. Neither their offense nor their defense has proven much if anything in recent seasons. But Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White becoming one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL is not a pipe dream. (And if a finally healthy Eddie Royal continues to look as fresh and quick as he did Thursday, the “corps” might be worthy of recognition as well.)

“Having our receivers healthy and able to practice — whether it’s Kevin or Alshon or even Eddie Royal — I think you feel the difference,” coach John Fox said.

It’s those injuries and White’s inexperience that tempers the enthusiasm. Jeffery, Royal and White combined to play in 18 games last season. Though the ceiling is high, the floor is pretty low in an offense trying to replace Matt Forte, Matt Slauson, Martellus Bennett and coordinator Adam Gase. A lot of things have to go right. But if they do …

“We’re happy to be on the same field together. We’re excited,” White said. “We know what we have to do. We know what the fans want. We just want to live up to those expectations.”

Jeffery, a man of few words and fewer emotions, insisted he had no hard feelings after failing to get a long-term contract and settling for the franchise tag and a $14.6 million payday. “It wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I’m here. I’m playing football. I’ve got a contract. I’m blessed.”

Jeffery again will be on a contract year, challenged to stay healthy (and produce) after missing the entire preseason and seven regular-season games with various injuries last year. He does not appear to have any hard feelings.

“I let [the contract] take care of itself,” Jeffery said. “I just play football.”

As for the much more effusive White, he was thrilled to finally be on the field after missing all of last season with a stress fracture in his left shin. “I was so excited — kind of like a kid in the candy store,” White said. “Last year I was very, very frustrated — a lot of stress. This year I’m out here, having fun and I’m able to contribute.”

White actually has even more to prove — not only that he can stay healthy, but that he can learn the intricacies of an NFL offense to maximize his tremendous skill. But the potential is exciting. The Jeffery-White combination might take some time and might never be what it could be. But if it hits, it’s going to hit it big.