Leave it to receiver Alshon Jeffery, a soft-spoken player who avoided the spotlight that Brandon Marshall often sought with the Bears, to provide some bulletin-board material for the week.
“I love the city of Philadelphia,” Jeffery told Eagles reporters this week. “Chicago is just when I was there for work.”
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Jeffery exchanged text messages with NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport after his words were blasted all over social media. His words were misconstrued; he “meant no disrespect,” he apparently told Rapoport.
The last thing Jeffery — who often proclaimed his love for Chicago before his unceremonious exit from the Bears — wanted to do was make headlines. As always, Jeffery would rather let his play do that.
Jeffery will be making his first appearance Sunday at Soldier Field since he left the Bears, who didn’t sign him to the long-term deal that he wanted.
“He’s been the same guy,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday. “He’s a big, big target [with a] big, big catch radius. I think he’s a bigger runner after the catch than people give him credit for. He’s got deceptive speed. He’s gotten there and flourished.”
The Eagles signed Jeffery to a one-year, $9.5 million contract last year after he played out the 2016 season with the Bears on the franchise tag. By December 2017, it turned into a four-year, $52 million extension.
Jeffery earned his payday through his production but also by endearing himself to the Eagles in a way that he didn’t with the Bears: He played hurt and played well. He reportedly played last season with a torn rotator cuff, which required surgery after the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory against the Patriots.
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The Bears surely missed Jeffery last season, but as promised, general manager Ryan Pace overhauled his receiving corps for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, signing Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton and drafting Anthony Miller.
“The good thing about this offense is we have a bunch of players that can go off in different games,” Trubisky said.
Jeffery’s production isn’t in line with the NFL’s most prolific receivers. But he has improved from last season, despite playing three fewer games. He’s averaging more yards (49.3 to 64.8) and catches (5.0 to 3.6) per game. But he only had six touchdowns in the regular season after having nine in his first season with the Eagles.
Overall, Jeffery is part of a diverse offense run by quarterback Nick Foles that includes receivers Nelson Agholor and Golden Tate, Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and running back Darren Sproles.
Besides, the Bears know what Jeffery is capable of. Safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Kyle Fuller were Jeffery’s teammates for two and three years, respectively.
“He’s long with great ball skills,” Amos said. “He can build up speed. He’s a good football player.”
They don’t view him as mild-mannered, either.
“Good competitor,” Fuller said.
“He gets fired up,” Amos added.
Jeffery did criticize Soldier Field, describing the turf as “terrible” in the same interview with Philadelphia reporters. Soldier Field’s playing surface has been better this season, but the criticism of it is nothing new.
“When I was there, we always used to tell the equipment manager that you got to change the field, get the field better,” Jeffery said. “Not disrespecting it or nothing like that, but the field is terrible.”
But the Bears shouldn’t need to hear anything from Jeffery to get “fired up” themselves. They all should remember the Eagles’ 31-3 rout in Philadelphia in Week 12 last season.
The Eagles danced and celebrated all game. It included Jeffery mimicking a bowler and knocking over his teammates — a strike — after he scored a touchdown late in the second quarter.
“We all know Alshon,” Fangio said. “He’s obviously very good.”