A look at how Kevin White’s injuries — a severe high ankle sprain that led to a spiral fracture in his left fibula — can affect the Bears in the short and long term.
What this means for White
Going on injured reserve is an unfortunate turn of events for White, who had played better in the last two games after a slow start.
White was developing and producing. He was looking like a viable second or third option. His 19 catches were the most by a Bears receiver through his first four games.
“It’s disappointing for him and for us, but mostly for him,” coach John Fox said.
This is a setback for White’s development. His increased production came after offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said he would simplify White’s route-running.
Players often mention the “mental reps” they get while injured. But nothing equates to playing. White learned that after he missed all of his rookie season after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia.
It still hasn’t been decided whether White will have surgery for the spiral fracture in his fibula. It’s thought that the break can heal on its own given time.
Either way, White’s character will be tested again. He is a high-energy type with natural charisma. Teammates and coaches often mention his infectious smile.
Now he’s looking at more time with doctors and trainers than on the field.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for a good teammate,” wide receiver Cam Meredith said.
Fox referenced Broncos star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas’ ability to overcome a spate of injuries early in his career, which included a torn Achilles tendon. But Thomas’ ailments varied.
White’s injuries involve different bones, but it’s the same leg. Last year, the muscle atrophy in his left calf was obvious before and after surgery.
What this means for Pace
When White was drafted, general manager Ryan Pace went all-out in his praise for his first first-round pick. Here were some of the highlights from April 30, 2015:
“This is a dynamic playmaker for our offense.”
“I love the fire and the energy that he plays with.”
“He checked every box we were looking for.”
“This was an easy pick.”
“This is a competitive, feisty, strong player.”
It’s fair to wonder if White will ever live up to Pace’s words.
If White goes down as a bad pick for Pace, it will be more the result of bad luck than poor evaluations.
The stress fracture that cost White his rookie season didn’t show up until organized team activities. An awkward tackle resulted in White’s injuries this year.
Missing on first-round selections is a recipe for failure, and the Bears have missed many over the last two decades. But Pace still is trying to refill the cupboard left empty by Phil Emery and Jerry Angelo.
Attention shifts to outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the ninth overall selection this year. The scrutiny will increase with White out.
Floyd has a half-sack in his first four games and has been slowed by minor ailments. He’s dealing with a bothersome calf.
“He’s a work in progress,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.
Pace’s picks after the first round have been better. He has starters in defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, center Cody Whitehair and safety Adrian Amos.
Running backs Jordan Howard and Jeremy Langford and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall also have shown promise.
What this means for Jeffery
On the field, White’s absence means more will be expected from Alshon Jeffery, even though double teams have limited his overall effectiveness.
But the off-the-field implications are more intriguing. Jeffery is playing for a long-term contract, whether it’s with the Bears or another team.
White’s situation complicates matters. Saying goodbye to Jeffery, playing under his $14.6 million franchise tag, would’ve been easier if White blossomed this season.
That won’t be the case with White on IR, though.
With uncertainty surrounding White, it’s worth wondering if the Bears will be more willing to sign Jeffery to a long-term deal if he stays healthy and produces big numbers.
What this means for 2016
Cornerback Kyle Fuller is the most affected player. The Bears can only activate one player from IR, meaning they’ll have to choose between the two first-round picks.
Fuller was put on IR on Sept. 27, six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
It will be an interesting decision, especially if White can return. The Bears are happy with their young cornerbacks: Hall, Bryce Callahan and Jacoby Glenn.
Is White’s development more important than adding Fuller to that mix?
Offensively, Meredith appears to be the favorite to take most of White’s playing time. Similar to White, Meredith can use his size — he’s listed at 6-3, 207 pounds — to his advantage.
Marquess Wilson also is expected to return in the next few weeks. He has been on the physically unable-to-perform list since July after breaking his foot.