Bears’ White out: Too early to get excited about Tanner Gentry again?

SHARE Bears’ White out: Too early to get excited about Tanner Gentry again?

Undrafted rookie receiver Tanner Gentry had four receptions for 77 yards in the preseason, including this 45-yard touchdown from Mitch Trubisky against the Titans. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

It’s a legitimate point: Kevin White’s latest injury doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the Bears’ receiver corps. White has only 21 receptions for 193 yards and zero touchdowns in his five-game Bears career.

What they lose — besides familiarity with quarterback Mike Glennon and coordinator Dowell Loggains’ offense — is room for growth. Theoretically, the seventh pick of the 2015 NFL draft has a ton of upside, the potential to go from 0-to-60 in the course of a season.

Even that was debatable heading into the 2017 regular season. Except for a 32-yard catch against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium last year, it’s hard to remember even one time where White flashed at any point in his limited time on the field with the Bears. General manager Ryan Pace insisted it was still there, and it might have been, but it could turn out we’ll never get the chance to see it — not in Chicago, anyway.

A year ago, White’s season-ending injury in Week 4 opened the door for Cam Meredith, who went from the inactive list in Weeks 1-2 last season to the Bears’ leading receiver, with 66 receptions for 888 yards (13.5 avg.) and four touchdowns. It’s unlikely they’ll find a similar upgrade this season, but you never know.

Tre McBride, a kick returner for the Titans as a rookie last year who was waived in the cutdown to 53 this season, figures to be active this week. A seventh-round draft pick from William & Mary, McBride has a similar pedigree to Meredith. But how often does a team like the Bears get that lucky?

Undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, who was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster after White was put on injured reserve, is an intriguing prospect. He was a big hit in training camp — arguably the Bears’ best receiver after Meredith. But when no team claimed him on waivers, it seemed to confirm the notion that we saw more in Gentry than was actually there. Not the first time that has happened with wide receivers in Bears training camps. This is a franchise whose all-time leading receivers still are Johnny Morris (5,059 yards), who played his last game with the Bears in 1967; and Harlon Hill (4,616), who played his last game for the Bears in 1961.

Gentry is often lumped in with other Great White Hopes of previous Bears training camps, like Mike Hass, Dane Sanzenbacher and Daniel Braverman. But, despite the league passing on him in waivers, Gentry might be more than that. He wasn’t just a get-open guy who worked the middle of the field. He showed an innate ability to find the ball in traffic, win one-on-one battles and make plays downfield.

And at 6-2, 209, he doesn’t have the mind-set of a little guy just trying to make it, or a white guy trying to be the next Wes Welker.

“I like the bigger receivers in the league that play physical. Dez Bryant is a guy that I kind of try to play like. He just plays so physical and goes up and gets the ball and is a big, physical receiver.”

Based on what we saw in training camp, that kind of guy is always worth a shot — especially on a team desperate for wide-receiver production as the Bears.

Until we see what Gentry can or cannot do in a regular season game, the Bears’ best hope is for Markus Wheaton to get back on the field and give the Bears a deep threat that opens things up for other targets in the passing game. Already, Wheaton has missed time because of an appendectomy and a broken pinkie on his left hand. The Bears are giving no indication when he’ll be ready. He seems like the perfect guy to replace Kevin White in the lineup.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash


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