Pre-camp depth chart
1. Allen Robinson
2. Kevin White
3. Javon Wims
4. Marlon Brown
5. Tanner Gentry
1. Anthony Miller
2. Josh Bellamy
3. Bennie Fowler
4. DeMarcus Ayers
5. Garrett Johnson
6. Matt Fleming
1. Taylor Gabriel
2. Tarik Cohen
1. What can the Bears get out of Kevin White?
This isn’t the biggest question facing the Bears’ wide receiving corps — that would be the second one on this list — but this is the most fascinating one heading into training camp. What gradually stacked practices during OTAs and minicamps in April, May and June, looking solid (if not impressive) while running around in shorts and a helmet.
At the least, he looked better this spring than he did at any time last year, when he was coming off his second consecutive season-ending lower body injury, to put it in hockey parlance. White missed all but three quarters of the 2017 season due to an upper-body injury (a fractured scapula), which while serious didn’t require him to re-learn how to run during the rehab process from it. As a result, White played fast during spring practices, and on top of that took the kind of mental approach Matt Nagy wanted to see.
“He certainly grew in a lot different areas,” Nagy said in June. “And the one thing that I’ve noticed about Kevin, that I thought was neat, is that if there was a dropped ball, it was the next-play mentality for him. I kept a keen eye out for that to see how he was going to react to a play like that, and he’s done well. He’s been running routes well, he’s been catching a lot of footballs, he’s been focusing on what he needs to focus on and that’s a big advantage for this offense.”
White not only has to remain productive when the pads come on in Bourbonnais, but he has to prove that he can stay healthy throughout preseason play and then into the regular season. There’s a lot riding on this season for White personally, with the 2015 seventh overall pick becoming a free agent next March after the Bears declined his fifth-year option. If he puts together a full, productive season, he’ll earn a second contract; if not, his chances of sticking in the league don’t seem good. The best thing he can do during training camp is continue the slow build he began at Halas Hall from April to June.
2. Will Allen Robinson live up to the hype?
Ryan Pace guaranteed just under $40 million to Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and then traded back into the second round to draft Anthony Miller. It was hardly a surprise that Pace aggressively tried to improve what was a pitifully bad wide receiver group from 2017, but the question still remains: How good can this group be? And specifically, can Robinson be that true No. 1 receiver this team has lacked since letting Alshon Jeffery walk to Philadelphia?
Robinson competitiveness, instincts, size and athleticism made him one of the best receivers in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards with 14 touchdowns in 2015, then followed that with a relatively disappointing 73-catch, 883-yard, six-touchdown 2016 (only 10 times in Bears history has a pass-catcher hit those marks; the most recent guys to do it were Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in 2014).
“You can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”
That chip on his shoulder, likely, comes from Robinson tearing his ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season. He only partially returned to practice during veteran minicamp in June, though the expectation has been for him to be fully cleared for practice by the start of training camp. If he’s cleared for full participation, he can start developing timing and chemistry with Mitch Trubisky that he wasn’t quite able to do during the offseason program.
Torn ACLs aren’t as big a risk for wide receivers as they used to be, but any time a team guaranteed $25 million to an injured player, there’s risk involved.
3. How will the versatility of this group show up?
One of the more exciting things we’ll get to watch in Bourbonnais will be the different ways Nagy uses a group of receivers the Bears feel is tailored well to their new spiced-up west coast offense. Gabriel is the primary “Zebra,” the position made famous by Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, and while he has prototypical slot size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) expect the diminutive former Atlanta Falcon to line up all over the field. The same goes for Miller, who played both in the slot and outside in college. Expect to see a lot of Tarik Cohen split out wide in this group, too, as well as Trey Burton providing some versatility from the tight end position.
The overall point here is this, though: The Bears’ offense, ideally, will be able to dictate mismatches in a way they weren’t close to being able to do in 2017. That can only benefit Trubisky, but these receivers still need to execute their routes and assignments to make sure the mismatches created for them actually can be taken advantage of.
So on the practice fields of Olivet Nazarene University, you’ll see plenty of players moving around to different positions within the offense. If they quickly mesh with Trubisky, this offense could very well be effective from Week 1.