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Alshon Jeffery up and running, but unlikely to play vs. Broncos

Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) was limited in practice Tuesday at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais after missing the previous four practices with a hamstring injury. "I feel better," he said. (Nam Huh/AP)

BOURBONNAIS — Alshon Jeffery took token reps at Bears practice Tuesday, but earnestly galloped through the “gauntlet” of fans seeking autographs as he exited the practice field at Olivet Nazarene — stopping briefly to sign for a few on his way back to the locker room.

It was the best evidence yet that Jeffery’s latest injury might indeed be the “mild” hamstring the Bears said it was last Thursday. Unfortunately for Bears fans, you never really know for sure. With the John Fox regime, injury situations go from “day-to-day” to “next-man up” without warning.

So it was no surprise that Jeffery shed little light on his injury after practice Tuesday. The unofficial prognosis is the same as every other player who gets hurt: He’ll be back when he’s back.

“I feel better,” Jeffery said.

It’s unlikely Jeffery will play in the Bears’ preseason opener against the Denver Broncos on  Thursday night at Soldier Field. The bigger question is whether Jeffery will play at all in the preseason.

“I think it’s important for him to get a few reps out there — just to get used to football,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He’s been kind of on and off at camp. So just getting some reps, getting his conditioning, getting ready to play football; get some soreness and work through that — I think that would be good for him.”

But the biggest question of all is whether Jeffery can stay healthy once he gets healthy. Last year, Jeffery was day-to-day with a calf strain he suffered on the eve of the exhibition opener — and missed the entire preseason. He returned for Week 1 of the regular season and caught five passes for 78 yards against the Packers after just three practices.

But that’s where things went wrong. Jeffery suffered a hamstring injury in practice the following week and missed the next four games. He never played more than four consecutive games and was never at full strength for more than three games in a row.

Now the hamstring — here we go again?

“I wasn’t too concerned,” Jeffery said. “I feel a lot better [this time], just taking it one day at a time. [Working with the] training staff. Just so I get my body conditioned and doing whatever it takes.”

Nobody seems to know what it will take to keep Jeffery healthy. After missing seven games because of injuries last year, Jeffery used a personal trainer instead of the Bears training staff to condition himself against a recurrence. But five practices into camp, he suffered the hamstring injury.

“My offseason workouts were great, but at the same time, it’s the game of football,” Jeffery said. “You’re going to get hurt at some point of your career. I don’t know one player who hasn’t been hurt.”

For the record, three full-time wide receivers in the NFL have played every game (64 of 64) during Jeffery’s four-year career — Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith and Reuben Randle; 26 have missed four games or fewer — an average of one per season. In all, 49 have played more than Jeffery’s 51 games in four NFL seasons. So while every NFL game might be a car crash, some survive better than others.

The good news for Jeffery — who played all 16 games in 2013 and 2014 — is that injury fate can turn for him just as quickly as it has turned against him. Demaryius Thomas missed most of his first two preseasons and 11 of his first 21 games in the NFL with the Broncos (including the first five under John Fox in 2011) with a series of injuries: a torn Achilles, a broken foot, a broken finger, a forearm and a concussion. But he’s played in 85 consecutive games since then, including 10 playoff games.

Jeffery’s run of soft-tissue injuries might be more problematic — it’s looking like more than bad luck. But that’s the challenge for Jeffery and the Bears’ training staff. All we know for sure is (1) the Bears and Jeffery will be cautious; and (2) being cautious guarantees nothing. So all you can do at this point is stay tuned and hope for the best. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.