We’ve heard this story for years.
He’s healthy, they said. He’s been working hard in rehab, they said. He’s never been in better athletic shape, they said. And if I hear one more person say “The Bears will basically have two first round picks this year,” I might go clinically insane.
But this year, and I cannot believe I am saying this, feels different. And that’s because, for the first time in his NFL career, he is turning heads on the practice field through the first few days of training camp.
White, in ample amounts of first-team reps and working closely with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, has shown that he may still have some gas in the tank as he works toward his fourth NFL season with a mere four and a half games under his belt as a Chicago Bear. Let’s take a closer look at what he has improved upon, what he still may need to get better at, and what his role in the offense could look like.
— The Loop Sports (@TheLoop_Sports) July 23, 2018
Trubisky to Kevin White. pic.twitter.com/UH25wH6QQm
— Ben Devine (@Chicago_NFL) July 23, 2018
The first clip is a little bit difficult to see but it illustrates perfectly the progress White has made in his route running and more specifically, his footwork. White is going one on one with starting cornerback Prince Amukamara in this drill and he’s running a very typical back shoulder curl route.
You can’t quite catch it on the video but he does an excellent job chopping his feet to get Amukamara to bite on the inside fake. He chops his feet (a vital aspect of any football player’s technique, whether it be route running, blocking, defeating blocks, or tackling), stops on a dime, cuts to the outside, and catches a perfect throw from Trubisky. I say “perfect” with a bit of an implied asterisk because this is one of the easier throws a quarterback will make. White even shows off his quick feet after the catch with a step back move to get by the defeated Amukamara, displaying his confidence in the first couple days of camp.
In the second one, White does the same thing but it’s a little more of a rocky road for him as Fuller doesn’t quite bite as much on the move. To compensate, he did a good job with his positioning on Fuller. He made sure to get his entire frame in front of Fuller and catches a dart from Trubisky just in time. This was another example of him stopping just short enough so that Fuller could only go for the tackle and not the ball.
Kevin White with a nice catch on Fuller. pic.twitter.com/iKNOuVars0
— Greg Braggs Jr. (@GBraggsJr) July 23, 2018
While this pitch and catch from Trubisky to White may seem routine, there’s actually a lot to talk about in terms of White’s path to the football. Fuller is playing off coverage and White is running a ten yard out route, from one 45 yard line to the other. Fuller waits back enough for White to make his cut unscathed and Trubisky hits him for a positive gain.
What’s important here is the attention to detail on White’s route, something that was sorely lacking in both his college career (route running was the main concern coming out of West Virginia) and his short stints with Chicago. Instead of fading farther up the field where Fuller could make a play on the ball, he cuts sharply to the outside and comes back to the ball so he could catch it on the same plane in which he made the sharp move.
— Da Bears Brothers (@DaBearsBros) July 22, 2018
The main concern – may be better phrased as “deterrent for optimism,” because when there’s not much hope, there really can’t be concern – with White’s comeback attempt is that there’s no way he has retained the speed that made him the seventh pick in the 2015 draft.
However, throughout the offseason program, reporters swore that he looked as fast as they’d seen him. And he’s continued to display it throughout the first week of training camp.
Here, White runs a straight up nine route. He stutter steps for a second and then shoots past undrafted free agent and Last Chance U star John Franklin III, having a step on him all the way. He then hands fights (that was not a push off – not one that would be called in a game, anyway) his way towards a second stride of separation and makes the catch with little struggle. For White to make an impact, he has to keep doing things like this.
Tough drop by White.
Nice pocket presence by Mitch. pic.twitter.com/5h7OXhQcFL
— Greg Braggs Jr. (@GBraggsJr) July 22, 2018
This is where we see what White still needs to work on. He gets tons of separation likely due to a miscommunication in coverage but can’t quite make the grab after a full-body adjustment on a suspect but catchable ball from Trubisky. It was raining, I’ll give him that, but at 6’3″ these are the balls White should be bringing in.
He’s played in five real football games in the past three years, so you can see why back shoulder/adjustment-oriented grabs would not be his strong suit at the moment. Hopefully he’ll get used to making difficult catches in the coming weeks, and if he’s going to fight rookie Anthony Miller, who according to people there has looked spectacular in camp, he’ll need to prove he can do it.
What do all these clips have in common? White looks explosive. He looks explosive in all of his movements in the first three days of training camp, whether it be in cuts or in finishing completions. This is the sign of somebody who has completely rehabbed his prior injuries and is good to go for the season.
There remain many possible outcomes that can derail White’s season. Remember, he’s had three different season-ending injuries, so unless his bones have shifted into a sturdier form of glass, that’s always something to watch for.
That’s why Ryan Pace and company attacked this offseason like he wanted to do two things. One – give White every possible chance to succeed. And two – prepare like he will get catch zero passes.
Last season, they made the mistake of counting on White for production. This season, not so much. The additions of Robinson, Gabriel, Burton, and Miller made that very clear. But for White to look good in training camp is significant. It means he could push for playing time, which would give the Bears a weapon they did not even expect to have coming into the season.
Whether that happens or not obviously remains to be seen. But through a week of training camp, one thing is certain: White is not going down without a fight.
Follow Jack on Twitter: @JS_92_ –Feature Photo Credit: AP