By Brad Biggs/Chicago Tribune
Kyle Long was caught off guard, in the best possible way, when he strolled out to the practice field recently.
Standing there in full pads for the first time was Kevin White. Ripped arm muscles emerged from the sleeves of his jersey and his 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame stood out Dec. 3 in a group of chiselled athletes in prime condition. On the shelf since June, White was in full equipment for the first time.
“He comes out there and I was like, ‘Who the hell is that guy?’ “ Long said. “I looked at Alshon (Jeffery) and my words were, ‘What the (heck)?’ I haven’t seen him play, but jeez, he looks the part.”
The Bears won’t see White play this season. The first pick of general manager Ryan Pace’s regime, No. 7 overall, isn’t ready for game action after surgery in August to insert a rod in his left leg to heal a stress fracture. But the team’s brief glimpses at White during his three-week practice window on the physically-unable-to-perform list have been encouraging.
It’s easy to ponder what lies ahead, the same thing the Bears did after White was drafted. The chance to pair him with Jeffery, who is 6-3, 216 pounds, bodes well for the passing game even if it has required an extra measure of patience.
“Different body types,” Long said. “Alshon looks like he could catch a back shoulder fade in the end zone and dunk over your entire defense. K.W. looks like he can slash and drive on everybody. He’s just put together.
“There are not a lot of guys that look like him. (He’s a) freak show. I am excited to see him play whenever it is.”
One impressive thing about White is that he has been able to remain completely dialed in.
That sounds simple - he’s a pro athlete being paid a king’s ransom. But often players out for the season because of injuries will tell you they feel like ghosts, even at the team’s facility. Everyone else is going through the daily and weekly grind of preparing for a game and they’re on the periphery, lost in the shuffle of rehabilitation and never really in the cycle of the sport.
“Kevin made sure that he kept himself around everybody else, so guys almost didn’t know he wasn’t (playing),” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “He was always there. You always felt his personality. He always stayed engaged in the meetings. We asked him questions, Jay (Cutler) would ask him questions, he would ask questions.
“He is always upbeat (and) positive. ... When you get around him, he is always smiling. You can tell he loves football. He loves being around the building.”
Pace believes White has the kind of leadership ability that will come to the forefront early in his career, but that obviously can’t happen until he’s on the field making plays. And no one wants him to be out there more than White himself.
This is not the first time he has been forced to sit out a season. White missed his second season at Lackawanna Junior College (Scranton, Pa.) in 2011 when financial aid forms were not turned in on time. That was after a shoulder injury in a high school all-star game led him to redshirt as a freshman in 2010.
“I guess this year (versus 2011) is about even,” White said. “Maybe this is a little harder because I am going through an injury compared to when I missed the season in juco. Now, I have to get back to my old self.”
White, who only put up big numbers for one season in high school, didn’t have any idea how good he could be as he bided his time away from Lackawanna working a job at McDonald’s, attending classes at a community college and spending time in the gym. “I was just working hard, staying constantly dedicated and praying for the best,” White said. “Same exact thing now.
“Still, I don’t know how good I can be. (It’s a) different level (and the) speed is different - I am not going to be able to beat everybody on speed and size. I’m going to have to use technique and different combinations and different things off the line. That is the step that I am learning when I am not out there.”
White and veteran Eddie Royal were the last two players on the practice field Thursday, spending an extra 30 minutes. They were going over releases at the line of scrimmage, breaks at the top of the route and the finer details to route-running, work that White has missed.
“I have something to prove,” White said. “It would be stupid not to say it. Everyone on this team has something to prove and has something to drive them. Mine is to show Pace and (coach John) Fox they made the right choice even though this year hasn’t been going like we’d like it to.
“I want to make them look good. I want to make myself look good. I want to make the team look good. I know a lot of fans want to see me play and be good, and I have even higher expectations for myself. It’s kind of how I was brought up.”
Overall, it has been a disappointing season for rookie receivers.
Six were selected in the first round and only the No. 4 overall pick, the Raiders’ Amari Cooper (62 catches, 920 yards, four touchdowns through Week 13), is producing. The Ravens’ Breshad Perriman, drafted 26th overall, is in the same boat as White on PUP for the season. Only two other rookie receivers have more than 35 receptions - the Redskins’ Jamison Crowder (48) and the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs (44), fourth- and fifth-round picks, respectively.
The Bears see it as only a matter of time - think next season - before White will be putting up his own impressive numbers.
“You can just look at the kid and tell he is a big kid, a strong receiver, and you know he can run,” Royal said.
Said Jeffery: “The guy can take the top off the defense, I know that for sure. When we’re all out there together, we’re going to be the best receiving group in the league.”
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