The injury news for the 2016 Bears got exponentially worse when it was announced Wednesday that wide receiver Kevin White, the team leader with 19 receptions this season after missing all of last year with a stress fracture, will be placed on injured reserve with a broken left fibula that resulted from a hit on his leg that caused a high-ankle sprain.
Wide receiver is a spot with some depth, and Cameron Meredith weighed in with four catches against the Detroit Lions, three after White was forced out.
“Cam got playing time for us last year,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “I was impressed with him. I think he has continued to grow this year. With some of the guys back — Eddie Royal, Alshon and Kevin — I think it has been diminished a little bit. But we leaned on him a little bit [Sunday] when Kevin got hurt.
“He’s tall. He’s long. He’s got good catch radius. He does have good speed. I think you see his arm length. I think he went up and snatched one over the middle yesterday. He’s got good hands. So he’s a young guy that’s going to get better.”
The Bears also appeared to tilt their offense toward rushing the football with the return of fullback Paul Lasike to the active roster and the addition of tight end Rory “Busta” Anderson to the practice squad.
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White could return this season and the team said surgery was an option. The injury occurred in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Lions in which White caught six passes for 55 yards, the last for a five-yard gain before he was tackled and his leg twisted awkwardly on the takedown. White limped to the sideline and received medical attention.
The team has the option of bringing one player back from injured reserve in a season, which could be White or could be cornerback Kyle Fuller, out after knee surgery Aug. 15. But the limit is one, meaning that either Fuller or White is done for 2016.
The injury was to White’s same leg (left) that sustained the stress fracture in 2015, which subsequently had surgery to install a rod for strength, but the injuries were unrelated, the team said.
The Chicago Bears offensive line wasn't good in 2019. It was downright brutal at times. And it's because of the unit's sub-par play that both guard and tackle have been mentioned among the top offseason needs heading into free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.
But it wasn't long ago that James Daniels was a highly decorated second-round pick out of Iowa. In fact, it was just two years ago. The second-year starter had his ups and downs in 2019, but he may have the most upside of any of the starting offensive linemen slated to return next fall.
Daniels posted the Bears' third-highest season grade on offense from Pro Football Focus (70.3) and was the team's highest-graded starting offensive lineman. At just 22 years old, the arrow is pointing up for him.
In fact, he was dubbed the league's breakout candidate at guard in 2020:
The Bears moved Daniels to center to start 2019, switching his spot on the line with Cody Whitehair, after he had played left guard the entirety of his first season. Daniels earned a 63.2 overall grade at center, which would have been good for 22nd out of 37 qualifiers at the position. Meanwhile, his 73.9 grade at left guard would have ranked fifth among 39 qualifiers. It remains to be seen how the Bears use Daniels in 2020, but it’s clear that he performed better at guard. As talented as he is at just 22 years old, another season with position continuity could have Daniels poised to break out.
It's often difficult to recognize one offensive lineman's positive play when the group, as a whole, struggles. But Daniels was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for the Bears' big uglies, and he remains a key cog in an offense looking to take massive strides in 2020.
Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was supposed to ascend into superstar status in 2019, and while he certainly had some flashes of elite play, his year will best be remembered for a strange deactivation in Week 4 and a torn pec muscle that ended his season in Week 14.
We still don't know the exact reason why Smith didn't play against the Vikings. The team called it a personal issue and refused to expand on why one of their most important defensive pieces didn't suit up. We've been left to speculate, which is never a good thing. We may never know what exactly went wrong that week, which naturally creates worry and concern about how much the team can actually rely on Smith on a week-to-week basis.
Smith's season ended after 12 starts, 100 tackles, two starts, and one interception. He was inconsistent on the field; when he played well, he was lights out. But he had more than his fair share of missed tackles and head-scratching moments that looked nothing like the player the Bears drafted eighth overall in 2018.
Smith ended the year as one of the lowest-graded Bears on defense (24th). His 52.4 ranked 124th among qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Not good.
But analytics don't always tell the full story. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed and missile-like penetrating skill set is and will remain an asset for the Bears defense. On pure talent alone, Smith has few peers in the NFL. He just needs to become a more consistent football player, both on and off the field.
We'll chalk up 2019 as an odd blip on Smith's career trajectory. Assuming he makes a full offseason recovery from is pec injury, he'll begin 2020 as one of the cornerstone pieces of a defense that remains one of the NFL's best.