Asked about wide receiver Kevin White on Friday, Bears coach John Fox got straight to the heart of the matter.
“I think he looks very healthy,” Fox said. “With the things that we’ve done, I’m hoping he can remain healthy.”
Any discussion of Kevin White has to start with his health. Starting his third NFL season, the 6-3, 216-pound receiver is the poster child for the hope, frustration and futility of the Bears since Ryan Pace replaced Phil Emery as general manager in 2015. He’s a first-round draft pick — the seventh overall pick in 2015 — a potentially explosive player who can make everybody on the offense better, particularly his quarterback.
He seems to embody everything Pace wants in the Bears — a personable, respectable, brand-conscious difference-maker with face-of-the-franchise potential.
But White has played in just four of 32 games since joining the Bears because of two somewhat mystifying season-ending injuries. White was supposed to make Alshon Jeffery expendable. Instead, the Bears have neither Jeffery nor the Kevin White they expected. No wonder the total on Bears victories in Vegas sports books is 5 1/2.
Now the question is whether White can do anything about that. With Mitch Trubisky slated to sit behind Mike Glennon (and presumably Mark Sanchez) this season, the Bears’ hopes of being better than people think is centered around young, talented players taking quantum leaps to Pro Bowl level production — outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, and White at the top of that list.
All three have to prove they can stay healthy first. And none more than White, who is more determined than ever to shake that negative label currently on his NFL brand.
“He’s into it. He really cares,” Bears first-year receivers coach Zach Azzanni said Friday after the first day of the rookie mini-camp. “He’s a high-character guy. He’s going to be the first guy in the building, the last guy to leave. He doesn’t like things written about him — is he a bust or all that. He puts all that away. ‘I’m going to work really hard and prove everyone wrong and how I can do that is by being here every day and being a really hard worker.”
Azzanni, in his first year in the NFL after 18 seasons at the college level, will be White’s third position coach in three seasons. He doesn’t gush about White’s potential, but is eager to see what he’s actually got.
“You saw some flashes [in 2016],” he said, referring to tape of White he watched after getting hired in February. “The other thing I like about him — he made a catch on the sideline and he got up and I finally saw some emotion. Some of that dog came out of him a little bit. I don’t know if he’s had that the last two years. [He’s] shown flashes of it. But if he can play like that, he’ll be pretty hard to step. But he has to play like that all the time.”
With a new quarterback and only four games under his belt, White will be starting virtually from square one again this season. Azzanni hopes to make the most of that.
“It’s a fresh start for him in a lot of ways,” Azzanni said. “My man’s got a new number [11 instead of 13]. He’s got a new coach. He’s healthy. So knock on wood — good things for him.”
Knock on wood, indeed. After two difficult seasons, Kevin White deserves all the luck he can get.
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