Kevin White ‘ready to go’ as Bears look for definition in WR corps
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BOURBONNAIS — Most of the focus will be on quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky when the Bears open training camp Thursday. But keep on eye to the players they’re throwing to.
The Bears’ mixed bag of X-factor wide receivers will play a huge role in the Bears’ plan to avoid a quarterback controversy that seems to be inevitable on a team in the middle of a rebuild.
It’s an interesting group of has-beens, never-weres, place-holders and could-bes. There’s a big name in former Pro Bowler Victor Cruz. Two former first-round draft picks in Kevin White and Kendall Wright. Players who have shown promise in Cam Meredith and Markus Wheaton. And some intriguing prospects such as Daniel Braverman and rookie Tanner Gentry.
But with the departure of Alshon Jeffery, the Bears don’t have an established, dependable wide receiver on their roster. Cruz won the Super Bowl and and had 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Giants, but has 62 receptions for 923 yards and two touchdowns in the last three seasons because of injuries and role-decline. Randle had eight touchdowns with the Giants in 2015 but was out of the league last season. Wheaton averaged 17.0 yards per catch with the Steelers in 2015, but missed most of last season with an injury.
The player to watch of course is White — the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture and all but four games of last season with a broken leg and sprained ankle. As much as any receiver in the group, including Cruz, he’s the one who can make a quarterback out of Glennon. But it’s still all potential. It’s good news — or the kiss of death, the way things have gone for White and the Bears — that White is at least ready to let it all hang out this season. He won’t be babied following back-to-back season-ending injuries.
“He’s ready to go,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said Wednesday at his pre-camp press conference. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason. You can just feel his confidence gaining — knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”
It’s says a little too much about the Bears’ receiving situation that Meredith is the leading returning receiver out of all 11 in this group. The former undrafted free agent from St. Joseph high school and Illinois State had 66 receptions for 888 yards (13.5 avg.) and four touchdowns. He’s done a great job of emerging out of the muck of a 3-13 season — he caught touchdown passes from three quarterbacks last season (Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley). Meredith is expected to take another step this season, but remains to be seen who high his ceiling is.
“What’s intriguing about him is just with his size and stature, his ability to get in and out of breaks, his route quickness, and then his catching radius,” Pace said. “He’s got really good body control to kind of make adjustments on balls thrown behind and outside his frame. But he’s a very good route runner for his size.”
The Bears are going to let competition sort it all out and see what happens. They have little invested salary-cap wise in any of them — even White is on his rookie contract. The big rub is that they’re not playing with a quarterback who has a history of making receivers better. It’s probably going to have to be the other way around.
“It’s a competitive group. They have all the traits we value,” Pace said. “Some guys are more speed/vertical guys; some are more of the big, position guys; good route runners. We expect a lot of those guys to take a bigger step because they’ve got more playing time.
“Some of these guys on one-year, prove-it deals can be a good thing. I look at the slot position, that’s going to be highly competitive as we go into this camp. That’s a great thing. It’ll kind of battle out. We’re happy with the group.”
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