BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White came to training camp with a simple mandate from Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace.
“Go out there, have fun, do what I need to do,” White said. “Pace is always telling me no pressure. I just want to play free and go out there and do what I do best.”
What White can do remains largely a mystery. That’s because injuries have limited him to a grand total of four games in his first two seasons. And Year 3 could go a long way toward determining if the former West Virginia star goes down as a bust.
For White, the past two seasons have been “the hardest thing I had to do.” But he is still upbeat, enjoying what he does.
“When you get something taken away from you, you enjoy it a little more,” White said.
While one of the biggest stories surrounding the Bears is the quarterbacks after parting with Jay Cutler and adding Mike Glennon and No. 2 overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky, keep an eye on the guys catching the ball. They’re certainly worth a look.
“It’s a competitive group,” Pace said. “They all have different traits that we value. Some guys are more speed/vertical guys, some guys are more of the big, possession guys, good route runners. We expect a lot of those guys to take a bigger step because they’ve got more playing time.”
The Bears brought in former Pro Bowler Victor Cruz as a slot receiver and veteran leader. Cameron Meredith showed promise last year in his second season with 888 yards. But the big wild card is White, Pace’s first pick as general manager.
His development could go a long way toward helping them dig themselves out after finishing last in the NFC North at 3-13. It would also mean the Bears wouldn’t have to use another high draft pick on a potential top receiver — or go after one in a trade or free agency.
With his size and athleticism, the Bears envisioned the 6-foot-3 White forming a dynamic tandem with Alshon Jeffery. But that never happened.
White missed his rookie season with a stress fracture in his left shin after being drafted seventh overall in 2015 and was limited to four games last season because of a fractured left fibula. Jeffery is gone, having signed with Philadelphia in the offseason. And big questions about White linger.
Put simply: Can he stay healthy? And can he develop into a go-to receiver?
“He’s ready to go,” Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”
White is practicing without restrictions. But it remains to be seen how productive he can be, particularly after missing 28 of 32 games.
He caught 19 passes for 187 yards in four games last season, not exactly eye-popping numbers. In his final year at West Virginia, he had 109 receptions for 1,447 yards.
“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skillset. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”
White seems to be aware of the expectations on him, that he needs to start proving himself after two injury-riddled seasons.
“Patient, but a little bit of urgency,” he said. “Just want to go out there, play, have fun and do my job.”
NOTES: LB Pernell McPhee is out indefinitely after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday. Coach John Fox described the operation as “just a cleanup.” … RB Jeremy Langford sat out Friday’s practice after rolling an ankle during a walkthrough the previous night.