Kevin White’s best play Sunday was rooted in his worst one.
Before the Bears receiver ran a ‘go’ route down the right sideline, reached over Morris Claiborne’s right shoulder pad with his right arm, batted the ball into his left hand and came down with a 32-yard catch, he was beating himself up over a drop.
“I was so pissed off that I told myself, ‘The next one that comes to me I gotta catch, no matter what,’” he said.
Those eight seconds in the fourth quarter encapsulate White’s first healthy season perfectly: a mistake followed by an amazing show of athleticism and, in between, an incredible amount of self-criticism.
White is an avowed people-pleaser. When he makes a mistake, he beats himself up before anyone else has the chance to.
Bears coaches noticed, and treat him accordingly.
“You know how much pressure he puts on himself,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “So you don’t have to browbeat him. You don’t have to yell at him.
“Sometimes with Kevin, it’s just, simply, you put your arm around him and tell him, ‘Hey, I know you’ve never seen this, but this is what that is and we need you to do this.’”
The No. 7 overall pick in 2015 missed last year because of shin surgery and has only played three career NFL games. But ask White if he’s progressing fast enough (“Um, no”), what he needs to work on the most (“Everything”) and if praise from coaches makes him feel better (“That’s not bad, I guess”), and it becomes clear that, at a position where cockiness reigns, the receiver rarely praises his own play.
Hasn’t he learned to cut himself a break?
“I think I’m getting better with it,” he said. “It’s still kinda hard.”
One of seven children, White’s desire to please started early. When he was around 11, his father bragged to a friend that he had the faster son. They set up a race and White won — and remembers how proud his father was more than the thrill of beating the kid.
“It’s all about, for me, family and how they look at me,” he said. “That’s what keeps me motivated.”
White called Sunday’s performance, in which he caught six passes for 62 yards, “very rewarding.” He had totaled seven catches for 70 yards in the first two games combined.
He was targeted 14 times against the Cowboys, twice that of Alshon Jeffery. He’ll likely get those opportunities again Sunday against the Lions; opponents have been rolling safeties toward Jeffery, leaving White in favorable matchups.
Jeffery has lived both sides — Brandon Marshall drew attention away from him for two years — and has spoken with White about the opportunity he has. Jeffery, though, was reluctant to paint himself as the centerpiece of the offense.
“Whoever’s involved in the game and whoever’s killing, if I’m the defensive coordinator, I might make some changes myself,” Jeffery said. “I don’t think it’s just me. If Kevin’s killing one game, I’m pretty sure they’re going to roll the coverage over to him.”
If that happens, it won’t likely be soon.
But the Bears have seen flashes that it could someday.
“He’s a big, fast, physical guy who can be a mismatch because of that reason alone,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “He’s a young receiver who keeps improving.”
Even if White might be the last person who sees it.
“I feel like I’m getting a little bit more comfortable,” White said. “But other than that, I still have to improve, still have to be a lot better.”