In the fourth quarter of Sunday's contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery caught a slant pattern for a 10-yard touchdown that put his team up 20-3. It was his second touchdown of the season, yet the excitement was dulled when he immediately went to the locker room with what was later announced as a hand injury.
It has since been reported that Jeffery has a fracture in his hand. It won't require surgery but he's expected to miss four to six weeks. Jeffery is currently second on the team in catches (14), targets (23), receiving yards (184) and first down receptions (10).
"It's tough," said coach Lovie Smith. "But you know, we know we're going to get him back. Injuries are part of it. He'll be back before long."
Jeffery's presence on the field will be missed, as the rookie was developing at a rapid rate. Through five weeks, he has emerged as a clear-cut No. 2 receiver behind Brandon Marshall. A second-round pick out of South Carolina, for whom the Bears traded up to draft, Jeffery is leading NFC rookies in receiving yards.
"In the NFL … we have injuries and this is one that's too bad because he was starting to come on," said coordinator Mike Tice. "[There's] a great rapport between he and Jay."
The Bears are lucky in that they have a bye this week, giving Jeffery two weeks of recovery before he begins missing games. Chicago is also entering its easiest stretch of games on the schedule, another bonus. It's feasible he could be back in Week 9 when the club takes on the Tennessee Titans, which would give him a one-game warm up before back-to-back contests against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers.
Despite his loss, no one in Chicago is panicking.
"We'll see how [Jeffery] does, when he bounces back," said quarterback Jay Cutler. "In [the receivers] room we've got a lot of talent, so somebody's going to step up."
Fifth-year wideout Earl Bennett has missed the last two weeks with a hand injury of his own but Smith said today he expects Bennett back after the break. Bennett, a college teammate of Cutler's, has exceptional hands and the trust of his quarterback, but he's yet to reach his potential as an NFL pass catcher. With Jeffery out, Bennett will get more reps to execute as slot receiver.
"I don't know how long [Jeffery] is out but it's tough," said Tice. "We hopefully get Earl back and just keep going."
Jeffery's absence also means more chances for Devin Hester, who has put together back-to-back solid performances. He caught a 34-yard touchdown in Week 4 against the Cowboys and last week made a diving 39-yard grab, which was easily the catch of the season for Chicago so far.
He said a few weeks ago he wants more touches on offense and has made the most of his opportunities of late. Those chances will increase for as long as Jeffery sits.
"We're putting [Hester] in spots to be successful," Cutler said. "When we put him in there, we've got to be creative and find ways to get him the ball. When he has the ball, when we give him chances, he makes things happen."
Smith said Jeffery's injury isn't serious and he won't miss many games.
"He'll be back out there before we know it, nothing major," he said. "And we can't wait to get him out there."
The time Jeffery misses has to be used wisely. Bennett and Hester must utilize their extra snaps and continue working with Cutler in this new offense. In that way, they can integrate themselves further in the pass game, so that when Jeffery gets back, the aerial attack will be a well-oiled machine.
Tight end Kellen Davis is another player that can benefit from Jeffery's absence. Davis has caught five passes for 88 yards the past two game combined, with Cutler showing improved confidence in his big tight end during that time. He'll get more looks to continue developing that chemistry.
So while the loss of Jeffery hurts, it comes at the perfect time on the schedule and will allow some other players an opportunity to grow in the offense. In this situation, the glass is definitely half full.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.