Healthy White ready to give Bears WR tandem with Jeffery
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears had just completed their first training camp practice and Kevin White could not contain his joy.
Considering how his rookie season went, it's not hard to see why.
Healthy after missing his first year because of a fractured shin, White is ready to show why the Bears drafted him with the No. 7 overall pick in 2015 and join Alshon Jeffery in what the team believes will be a dynamic tandem at wide receiver.
''I was so excited,'' White said Thursday. ''Kind of like a kid in the candy store. Last year I was very, very frustrated, a lot of stress. And this year I'm kind of out there having fun and I'm able to contribute.''
The Bears are expecting big things from Jeffery and White as the team tries to pull itself up after finishing last in the NFC North at 6-10 in coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace's first season. The work resumed Thursday with the first training camp practice, and it was an eventful one.
First-round draft pick Leonard Floyd left on a cart because of a stomach illness and guard Kyle Long came up hobbling near the end. He slammed his helmet to the ground on the sideline and was later seen with a walking boot on his left leg.
Floyd, the No. 9 overall pick, has been sick the past few days but plans to practice on Friday. The Bears are counting on the outside linebacker from Georgia to boost a defense that tied for 22nd in sacks and a woeful 30th in interceptions last season.
His development along with White's will go a long way toward determining whether Pace's regime is ultimately a success. The Bears need to build a solid young core after years of spotty drafting under former general managers Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery.
Pace took the 6-foot-3 White with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft thinking the West Virginia standout would form a top duo with the 6-3 Jeffery. Instead, White started experiencing pain in his left shin during organized team activities a year ago. The team thought rest and therapy would cure it, but he wasn't ready for the start of camp.
One day after he started running on grass for the first time, he felt pain and got hit with the worst-case scenario. He had surgery and missed his rookie season.
Jeffery was hardly a picture of health last year and wound up being limited to nine games because of calf, hamstring, groin and shoulder problems. The succession of injuries raised questions about his offseason regimen and durability even though he played in every game the previous two years.
''He had a great offseason last year,'' Fox said Thursday. ''That's one of the perplexing things. When he injured his calf the first time was actually working as a scout (team) member running plays of our opponent in preseason. It was just kind of a freak thing. It was unfortunate for him and us.''
There were more questions about Jeffery this offseason after he stayed away from the team's voluntary organized activities. He was unable to agree to a contract extension after the Bears placed the franchise tag on him in free agency and will play this season for $14.6 million. Pace insisted the negotiations were ''friendly the whole time'' and there's no ill will.
''Honestly, I feel really good about where he's at right now and kind of where we're at,'' Pace said.
Jeffery basically deflected questions about the negotiations, saying he let his agent handle the negotiations. He also said he is ''blessed.''
And Pace said: ''We can revisit it after the season. But I'm optimistic. He's a talented player. He knows he has to stay healthy. And we'll see going forward.''
The more immediate issue for the Bears is molding Jeffery and White into the dynamic combination the team hoped to have last season.
White spent plenty of time with Jay Cutler in both Lake Forest and at the quarterback's home in Tennessee, hoping to develop a rapport and a greater understanding of the system in the offseason.
''Sometimes I try to (ease) into the route sometimes and play like a little tempo game,'' White said. ''He just told me to get up on them quick. He can obviously throw the ball, let the ball out, a little quicker and help put some pressure on the DBs.''
Cutler called sitting out last season ''a big miss'' for White but added: ''He's so physically gifted I think he's gonna make it up really, really quickly.''
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