One of Bears coach Matt Nagy’s goals for his first minicamp was for his team to leave it with confidence. It’s why he has held practice indoors the last two days: so his players could play their best without distraction and feel good about it later.
No one needs that boost more than wide receiver Kevin White, the 2015 first-round pick who left the opener last season with a broken left shoulder blade and didn’t play again.
At this point, then, confidence about a practice might be all he has to draw on.
“He’s a kid [whose] confidence hasn’t been where it needs to be,” Nagy said Wednesday. “But what I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen so far, if I was somebody that was coming into this building and facility that didn’t know anything about him, you’d never in a million years know it from what we’ve seen recently.”
In three years, White has started only five NFL games — and, because of injuries, finished only three. He has only 21 career catches for 193 yards. The Bears undoubtedly won’t pick up his fifth-year option for 2019, making this a make-or-break season for his NFL future.
White is working for his fourth Bears receivers coach in as many years. But having a new head coach — and a new offense — helps the 25-year-old hit the reset button.
“I would think it would, that it would help him,” Nagy said. “If any of us were in that situation, and you have a fresh start — forget about the whys of what happened. Forget about that. That doesn’t matter. What matters is about right now.
“He’s young. He has a big ceiling. Now we can try to do it as much as we can as coaches and try to pull it out of him, but he’s got to work hard. He’s got to put time in the playbook. He’s got to put in the extra work after practice when he can. And then when the game comes, he’s got to make plays. When you do that, his confidence will slowly get better and better.”
Nagy has spoken openly about how the Bears need another receiver on their depth chart. It’s glib to say that getting White back, and healthy, would be the equivalent of adding a first-round pick.
While the Bears would love that to be the case, they can’t count on it. They’ve spent free-agent dollars accordingly. Even after deciding to let Cam Meredith leave for the Saints, they’ve devoted 16.67 percent of their 2018 salary cap to receivers, third-most in the league, after signing free agents Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.
“Just watching him go through his ups and downs, definitely, it’s been hard on him,” said inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who first met White five years ago at West Virginia. “But the way he’s taking it, just the criticism and the things, he’s kept on moving. And he continues to try to be the best player he can be and just kind of stay on top of things and don’t let things affect him.”
White looks the part — a picture of him shirtless, showing off a more defined upper body, made the social-media rounds last month. In minicamp practices, he has looked stronger.
The first time running back Tarik Cohen saw White last year, he was dominating a seven-on-seven drill.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is what the NFL is?’ ” Cohen said. “Oh, yeah, so I already knew what he’s capable of, and I’m just waiting to see it.”
Regardless of whether the Bears draft a receiver next week, their offense would be more dynamic with White — but health, of course, has always been the caveat.
“We have a dominant outside threat out there, on both sides, with him and [Robinson],” Cohen said. “Then we have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”