The Chicago Bears today placed WR Kevin White on Injured Reserve due to a fractured fibula. After missing his entire rookie season in 2015 with a broken shin, White will miss at least the next eight weeks, if not the entire year.
"The players put a lot of hard work into this," head coach John Fox said today. "With a tackle or a hit it can get taken away. So we're most disappointed for him."
This is a substantial blow to Chicago's offense.
White's 19 receptions were the most of any Bears receiver through his first four games in franchise history. The Bears aren't known for their legendary receivers but for White to have more immediate impact than any other player at his position since 1920, that says a lot.
White was on pace for 76 catches and 748 yards his first season. By comparison, Calvin Johnson had just 48 catches for 756 yards his rookie year, Tim Brown finished with 43 catches for 725 yards and, more recently, Dez Bryant had just 45 catches for 561 yards.
Many Bears fans believe White should have done more and produced at Jerry Rice levels right out of the gate but, in reality, he was actually ahead of schedule, and improving.
The 6-3, 216-pound wideout had six catches in each of the past two games, after catching just seven passes his first two games combined. Against the Lions in Week 4, White showed flashes of his high ceiling before suffering the injury.
"I think last week was by far his best game," Fox said. "He’s improved every week. It’s disappointing for him and for us but mostly for him. Just from the standpoint of having watched him grow and having experienced some success last week against Detroit."
The good news is that White's injury is not as serious as last year's broken leg and that he could return later this season.
"This is a completely different injury," said Fox. "It’s a completely different bone in the lower leg. This was the fibula, it’s the non-weight-bearing bone but he does have a spiral fracture. We’re looking at the different types of treatment, how to do it. Whether it’s surgery or getting opinions. There is an opportunity we could get him back this year, all be it later in the season."
Either way, the Bears will have to make do without White for at least the next eight weeks, which creates a new challenge for offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
So what will the offense look like moving forward?
First, expect the Bears to lean even more heavily on Jordan Howard and the run game. Howard rushed for 111 yards last week, carrying the ball 23 times, the most carries by a Chicago running back since Week 6 of last season. Expect his workload to increase with White on the shelf.
Second, the Bears need Alshon Jeffery to get healthy. He has just 8 catches for 116 yards in the past two games combined, totals Jeffery typically racks up by halftime when 100 percent. Dealing with knee and ankle injuries, Jeffery hasn't been the deep-ball threat he's been in the past, which has stunted the downfield passing attack. Jeffery was limited in practice today, so he's clearly not back at full health.
Third, the Bears must continue to rely on Eddie Royal, who has been the most consistent pass catcher on the team this season. Royal has 18 catches for 241 yards and 2 TDs so far, and is coming off a 7-111-1 performance against the Lions. On third downs in particular, the Bears must continue to feed their veteran slot receiver.
Fourth, someone else must step up. Whether that's Zach Miller -- who has had 34 or fewer receiving yards in three of four contests this year -- or receivers Josh Bellamy or Cameron Meredith, someone must fill the void during White's absence.
The likeliest candidate is Meredith (6-3, 210), a former collegiate quarterback, as he's steadily improved over the past two seasons.
"I've been impressed with Cam skill-wise," QB Brian Hoyer said. "He's big, he's fast, he has strong hands. His hands are impressive for being a guy that hasn't played receiver for that long. He's going to get his opportunity to step up and I think he's made strides to be ready for that opportunity."
He wasn't posting eye-popping numbers but replacing White is going to be a group effort for Chicago's offense, especially with Jeffery still on the mend.
Long-term, two straight lost seasons could be an issue for a receiver as raw as White, yet Fox isn't worried. He's been there, done that.
"I go back to even my experience in Denver with Demaryius Thomas," said Fox. "He probably didn't do a whole lot until year three. So he had setbacks and he was injured coming out of college. He had an Achilles injury after that and a finger injury after that and he had two surgeries in his first year and a half of NFL football. He's turned out pretty good."