“Kevin suffered a small stress fracture to the lower part of his shin,” Pace said. “At this point in time, for his long-term future, the best course of action is going to be to perform surgery to stabilize the stress fracture.”
White suffered the injury in the third week of OTAs and has not practiced in the two months since. He was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list at the start of the preseason and will remain on PUP heading into the regular season.
“Kevin will remain on PUP,” said Pace. “He'll convert from active PUP to reserve PUP and then that gives us the option to bring him up in the later part of the season.”
White will be eligible to begin practice in Week 6 and the Bears will have until Week 11 to either activate him or place him on injured reserve.
“Is there a chance that he misses the season? That's a possibility,” Pace said. “I want to make sure we do this the right way, not rush him back. Sometimes I feel like you have to protect them from themselves.”
The surgery will require inserting a stabilizing rod into the shin.
“There’s a rod that will be put in the tibia to stabilize it,” said Pace. “There are a lot of NFL players with that. We’ve got one guy on our team (Marc Mariani) that has that right now. So it just stabilizes it and it ensures that you’re good. You don’t have to worry about it again.”
White said he knew surgery was a possibility all along but was hoping the bone would heal over time.
“I mostly just tried to let it heal on its own. I wanted to do it natural,” said White. “Surgery is not a No. 1 option for anyone so it was obviously the last option and we're at a last option.
“I was shut down ever since OTAs so I was pain free until I did running [last week] and it got a little aggravated again. I just got pain in that spot again. I'm not ignorant about the situation. I knew it would probably lead up to surgery so I've just got to accept it and roll with the punches.”
This is a big blow to Chicago’s offense. The Bears spent the seventh overall pick in the draft on White believing he could contribute immediately to the passing attack and help replace Brandon Marshall’s production. Now they’ll be lucky if he plays at all his rookie year.
“It gives other guys opportunities,” head coach John Fox said. “We’ll have a next-man up approach whether it’s here, in the season, or in the postseason. You keep 53 men on the roster and you keep them for a reason, because you think they can play. It’s an opportunity for guys to step up. We’ll always look to improve our roster. That will not change. We’ll see who steps up.”
Both Fox and Pace admitted they’ll be scouring the waiver wire after first cuts but that, ultimately, the guys already on the roster must pick up the slack.
“Right away, you look at your own roster,” Pace said. “There's guys that are going to have to step up and emerge and all those things are going to have to happen. We're confident with that. Just like all these positions, we're going to be scouring the preseason. Whether it's trade scenarios or claims. But there's some guys out here that are going to step up and we feel confident with that.”
Moving forward, Chicago’s passing attack will lean even heavier on WR Alshon Jeffery – who is dealing with a mild calf sprain and will not play in the second preseason contest – TE Martellus Bennett and RB Matt Forte. Yet we should also expect an uptick in production from slot receiver Eddie Royal, as well as third-year wideout Marquess Wilson.
Yet the best way for the Bears to weather the storm of White’s injury is to run the football. White is an athletic freak with a rare combination of size, speed and explosiveness. No one is going to replace that, so adjustments are necessary.
The Bears ran the ball very well in the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins – 33 rushes for 166 yards and two rushing touchdowns – and have good depth behind starter Matt Forte. A commitment to the run game takes the pressure off quarterback Jay Cutler and the rest of the pass catchers and ensures a balanced offensive attack.
Long-term, the Bears need to be sure White is 100-percent before returning him to live action. If this team struggles in the first half of the season, what incentive would the Bears have to throw White back on the field? In all likelihood, he’ll miss his rookie year, which is sad for both him and the team. In reality, this is about making sure White can be a productive player in Chicago for the next 10 years, not just for a few games in 2015.
“We were being very cautious,” said Pace. “This guy's a big commodity for us. To me, it was kind of black and white. If he's having no pain, let's go, let's build him up slowly. Any type of set back, let's do the right thing, here. To me, hey, it's unfortunate, but there's clarity in this is the surgery that he needs to have. It'll be successful.”
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.