Photos of Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
At the start of Monday’s team meetings at Halas Hall, Bears coach John Fox went through his usual overview plus the customary welcoming of new personnel. Included was the introduction of a familiar face who hadn’t been around for a while.
Guys, in case you don’t remember, this is Alshon Jeffery.
After a four-game exile, Jeffery’s punishment for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the Bears top receiver returned to team headquarters Monday morning, ready to integrate back into an offense that badly needs his services.
The Bears did not make Jeffery available to reporters. So it won’t be until Wednesday that Jeffery finally shares his side of the story, his recap of how his contract year took such a detour. According to Jeffery’s social media explanation last month, he took "a recommended supplement to combat inflammation" and ultimately flunked a drug test, resulting in the suspension that was levied Nov. 14.
The suspension further complicated the Bears’ evaluations of how he may fit into their plans. It also cost the receiver more than $3.4 million in salary and four games to showcase his abilities.
Fox was terse Monday in describing Jeffery’s return. The Bears coach wouldn’t say where his top receiver had spent his time over the last four weeks. Fox also made it clear he was curious to see what kind of shape Jeffery is in when the Bears get back on the practice fields in the middle of the week.
"You’d like to think — and I think it would be true in Alshon’s case — you’re in a contract year, you’re missing four games and you’ve got three games left; I’d say you’d probably be pretty hard-pressed to be in shape," Fox said.
Fellow receiver Cameron Meredith noted that Jeffery generally was in good spirits Monday.
"At first he was kind of shy and wasn’t saying much," Meredith said. "But throughout the day he kind of opened up and was glad to be back."
Much has changed since Jeffery’s last game, a four-catch, 47-yard effort in a blowout loss to the Buccaneers. For one thing, three key offensive starters, including quarterback Jay Cutler, have found their way onto injured reserve, leaving Jeffery with some reorientation as he works back into the flow of things.
Quarterback Matt Barkley expressed his eagerness for Jeffery’s return after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Lions. The Barkley-Jeffery connection will be worth monitoring over the final three games. Fox knows there will be an initial period of adjustment for both players.
"The passing game is timing and precision," Fox said. "(Alshon) knows our offense. It’s not like he’s new to it."
The Bears also believe Jeffery’s presence can help them gain a more complete feel for Barkley’s potential.
"That would be the hope," Fox said. "So hopefully it works out that way."
Jeffery, of course, finds himself with just three more Sundays to display his own worth as he comes to the end of his first season playing on the franchise tag. The Bears entered the year with big questions about his durability and availability. And while initially it seemed promising that the talented receiver had played in the team’s first nine games, the positive test for a banned substance raised new questions about Jeffery’s reliability and trustworthiness.
Asked what expectations he conveyed to Jeffery for these final three weeks, Fox struck a stern tone Monday.
"I think he has a pretty good understanding and those have been shared," he said.
Jeffery will get his chance to have his say this week, first with his explanation of the suspension, then with his play against the Packers on Sunday.