It’s not a coincidence that Kevin White’s role in the Bears passing game increased the same week Allen Robinson played his lowest percentage of the team’s offensive snaps in 2018.
Robinson, hampered by a groin injury, still played 61 snaps against the New England Patriots on Sunday — but that represented 74 percent of the Bears’ offensive total. Prior to Week 7, Robinson had played 91 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps.
So enter White, who was targeted three times by Mitch Trubisky, which represented his first targets of the season. Officially, White was targeted twice in 15 passing plays — he drew a penalty on the other — catching both of them. One of those, of course, was his 54-yard Hail Mary reception that wound up a yard short of the end zone.
“This the first time (I’m) this healthy,” White said. “I’m super happy about that. I just want to continue to do the little things right and take care of my body and eat the right food and just be available.”
Looking forward, White could have more opportunities to grow within the Bears’ offense on Sunday against the New York Jets. Robinson is questionable to play due to that groin injury, though he was a limited participant in Friday’s practice. Coach Matt Nagy said Robinson's status for Sunday is a "day-to-day" thing after he wasn't able to finish last week's game.
If Robinson is active on Sunday, though, the Bears probably won't ride him as much as they did in Weeks 1-6, opening the door for White to come off the bench and play 15-20 snaps or so.
It wasn’t just White’s increase in snaps and targets that was noteworthy from the Patriots game, though — it was what he didn’t do. Specifically: White entered Week 7 having been on the field 70 times, but 40 of those were on running plays. Against Miami, White played 16 snaps, and all but two of those were running plays.
While Nagy considers the 6-foot-3, 216 pound White his best run blocking wide receiver, he also said he’s cognizant of not always running the ball when the 2015 first-round pick is on the field.
“You’ve got to make sure he’s not only in there on runs,” Nagy said. “That’s a tendency thing that we obviously look at.”
Essentially, if the majority of White’s snaps come on running plays, an opposing defense can see No. 11 lined up wide and logically figure the Bears will give the ball to Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen. So even if Robinson does play a significant share of the Bears’ snaps, when White does get on the field, Nagy may make sure it’s not a giveaway that a handoff is coming. White played 15 passing snaps and five running snaps against New England, bringing his season snap breakdown to an even 45 passing plays and 45 running plays.
“(I’m) just doing what was asked,” White said. “Of course as a receiver you want the ball. I feel like I can help a lot. But just do my job.”
That improved play balance will create more pass-catching opportunities for White regardless of Robinson's availability. That he caught both of his targets and drew a penalty against New England helped Trubisky gain confidence in White, too.
“I think that was just a boost for him to really get him going,” Trubisky said. “… The more catches you can get, the more passes you complete you kind of get into the rhythm of the game and you get your confidence going and you just feel like nobody can stop you, so I think that's good for Kevin to really get him going. He's going to be a big part of this offense going forward.”
The Bears, like every other NFL team, can find a place in their offense for a big, tall, fast receiver like White, so long as he’s getting open and catching the ball. White has now played more games in 2018 (six) as he did in his previous three seasons (five).
But White will also hit free agency after the 2018 season. Only five wide receivers picked in the first round of an NFL Draft from 1998-2015 have had fewer receptions in the first four years of their career than White (23), and he’ll need 14 more receptions in the Bears’ final 10 games to pass notorious Detroit Lions draft bust Charles Rogers on that list.
So there’s pressure on White to produce not only to help the Bears in 2018, but to help him continue his NFL career beyond this season. He admitted it’s sometimes difficult to not get frustrated when looking at his stats, but is confident that if he does what the Bears want out of him — whether that’s run blocking, increasing his pass-catching role or both — that everything will take care of itself.
“I’m not satisfied with anything I’ve put on film,” White said. “I haven’t been healthy enough to go out there and compete and show what I can do. As far as the pressure, there’s been pressure since I got drafted. Year 1, I wanted to show, this year I still want to show. There’s always that pressure. Maybe a little more now, maybe, just because it’s the last year. But that doesn’t mean it’s the last year playing football or being in the NFL. But there’s always pressure.”