CLEVELAND — That Kevin White played Thursday wasn’t damning of his previous preseason performance as much as it was an acknowledgment that he needed all the experience he could gather, whether the game mattered — and it didn’t — or not.
That he emerged unscathed was a potential disaster avoided.
That he thrived was gravy.
For the first time since the Bears drafted him seventh overall in 2015 — before the shin surgery that kept him from playing a game in what would have been his rookie season — White looked the part of a dominant receiver.
In a 21-7 win against the Browns at First Energy Stadium, White caught all four passes thrown his way, totaling 57 yards.
White also coaxed a pass interference penalty from Mikell Everette at the right pylon — a 27-yard throw he said he should have caught one-handed — which gave the Bears the ball at the 1-yard line and set up Ka’Deem Carey’s touchdown run on the next play.
White never returned after the score.
“I think it was a great decision,” he said. “I did want to play. I did feel like I needed some more game experience. I missed all of last year. Couldn’t have been bad.”
The only Bears projected Week 1 starter on either side of the ball to appear Thursday night, White’s confidence was cemented with each sharp cut and sure catch. He said that “people forget” he hasn’t played much football since leaving West Virginia.
Thursday, then, was sorely needed. In the three previous preseason games, White posted 12 yards on three catches. He finished Saturday’s all-important third exhibition with rookie mistakes: a drop on a screen pass and a route run so poorly as to draw Jay Cutler’s ire on an incompletion.
After the Chiefs game, Cutler no longer seemed peeved, stating matter-of-factly White had run a limited route tree in college.
“We felt like we needed another good outing, and felt like he delivered,” coach John Fox said after his team won their only preseason game. “This game is about confidence and experiences. He hasn’t had a lot of them in the prior season. He’s shown flashes but he needed some more playing time — and I thought he did well.”
White described his preseason as “average,” saying he was “not playing a lot.” He’s focused on watching film to correct his mistakes, and getting out of his breaks cleanly.
White showed flashes of that promise Thursday, even if it was against inferior competition. The woeful Browns began the game with their starters, but had cycled in backups quickly.
Fox took a sizeable risk starting White to play alongside second-string quarterback Brian Hoyer, was also posted a resurgent stat line, completing 12-of-16 passes for 112 yards.
Because White came out healthy Fox’s gamble was a worthy one. White has another 10 days to think about a performance that, even in an exhibition, lived up to his first-round hype.
Cutler said last week the team wasn’t unveiling routes that utilized White’s speed because they didn’t want their future opponents to be able to prepare for it off preseason film.
After finally showing flashes on on-field electricity, White knows the season-opener will be the payoff — and the big reveal.
“I feel like it was important just to get me ready, get my feet wet, make sure I do my job, stay focused,” he said. “And get ready for Houston.”