Kevin White ‘looks phenomenal’ but Bears still playing it coy
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Marc Mariani has no inside information on the Bears’ plan for fellow wide receiver Kevin White. But he attends Bears practices with regularity and knows a good wide receiver when he sees one.
“It’s going to take awhile for him to get comfortable and get the timing down, but he looks phenomenal,” Mariani said. “He’s the explosive guy everyone expected. He’s the playmaker that everyone expected. I think when he gets the chance to perform in a live game-day atmosphere, he’s going to really turn some heads.”
Mariani’s first-hand account only adds to the intrigue of the possible return of White — the No. 7 overall pick in last year’s draft — as the 5-6 Bears make a long shot playoff push. The Bears have until Dec. 15 to either promote White to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve.
The smart money is on the Bears putting White on IR and letting him re-start his rookie NFL season fresh in the offseason. But maybe not. Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase — in the midst of preparing for the 49ers — did not have a problem acknowledging that he is contemplating the impact the 6-3, 215-pound White would have on the Bears’ offense this season, when he easily could have said, “I’m just worried about the 49ers.” Instead, he gave the impression that he can’t wait to play with his mint-in-box toy.
“Yeah,” Gase said. “I try to think what would be the right thing to use him for. When you’re a first-year player in the league, you’re not going to grasp everything right away.
“Especially with the limited time we’ve had him, it’s what should we do with him if he does get out there? And what’s going to be the best thing that he can do to contribute? So in the back of my head, every time I’m watching to see what’s going to be the best thing for him.”
Over in Paranoia-land, head coach John Fox isn’t tipping his hand, saying that the decision to activate White is a matter of both getting medical clearance and passing the coaches’ eye test.
“He’s practiced all week. He practiced again [Friday],” Fox said. “We’ll look at him again [Saturday] and we’ll do our best to get our best 46 up.”
So Kevin White could play Sunday against the 49ers? Surely you can’t be serious.
“Within the rules, those are options,” Fox said. “I surely wouldn’t discuss them now.”
But even Fox seemed to acknowledge the anticipation of White — with Fox’s usual dab of condescension, of course. “Any time you take a guy with the seventh pick overall in the draft, you usually have high expectations,” Fox said, resisting the temptation to add the “Duh!” for emphasis. “Unfortunately, he’s one of those rookies that hasn’t gotten the opportunity yet. He had a setback [a “shin” that turned out to be a stress fracture that required surgery to place a rod in his leg]. Sometimes setbacks are setups for better things to come. We’ll see where that goes day-to-day.”
Even if White is cleared medically, there will be concerns with introducing a rookie wide receiver to an offense that is way ahead of him. Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper has 58 receptions for 851 yards — 12th most in the NFL — and four touchdowns. But he’s grown with Derek Carr and the Raiders offense since training camp.
Still, White’s athletic ability could mitigate any issues he has with route-running or integrating himself into an NFL offense. “It’s just going to be all about when they give us the green light,” Gase said. “[It] makes it easier if you just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to to throw one up, go and get it.’ There’s always those kinds of situations you can put a guy in. You can make it very simple for a young wide receiver if you want to.”
The Bears won’t rush White’s return. But if the current momentum continues to build, they might not be as ultra-patient as they’ve been either. Even two or three games might help determine just how aggressive they’ll want to be to keep Alshon Jeffery in free agency.
Regardless, the anticipation is palpable.
“We’ve all been hoping and waiting for him to get back out there,” Mariani said. “We love having him on the field with us now. I think he’s going to take his time and go at his own pace. But he’s the type of guy that can make a difference on Sunday. He can really help us. The sooner the better.”
Even this season?
“Nothing would surprise me,” Mariani said. “He’s a freak of nature.”
As for Jeffery, he was less effusive about White’s potential return. “I’m not a doctor. I can’t really talk too much about it,” he said. “Whenever he feels 100 percent and the training staff feels he’s 100 percent, then we’ll see. I can’t judge right now.”
But he can’t help but smile when asked about having both 6-3 wideouts in the same lineup.
“We’re going to see,” Jeffery said. “Whether it’s this year or whatever happens, we’re going to see. I’m always eager to see [what happens] no matter who’s out there. But as far as two big receivers on the outside — that’ll be some fun to watch.”