The NFL learning curve for wide receivers took on a great deal of relevance for the Bears and Kevin White as the rookie wideout went through his first NFL practice.
When Alshon Jeffery was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft he was coming in as a reserve receiver initially. Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall were starters, and it took some weeks into the season for Jeffery to break into the starting lineup.
White comes to the Bears as the No. 7 pick of the first round, and virtually a given to be starting opposite Jeffery.
“I know there’s a lot expected of me,” White said on Friday at rookie minicamp.
The Bears’ franchise record for a rookie wide receiver is 45 catches, by Harlon Hill in 1954. That was enough to get Hill to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. The Bears are indeed expecting more, at least numerically speaking.
But those expectations also demand accelerated learning at a position that once rarely produced epic rookie seasons but now has seen rookie wideouts hit the ground running, really, really fast.
“I think in the past we have what we call ‘fail rates,’” said Bears head coach John Fox. “Everybody follows the quarterback just because that’s a visible position. Over time, years ago we did this study that the receiver position was right up there with the quarterback.
“I don’t know if people are doing a better job of evaluating guys and how they fit their systems, but I think that’s changed a little bit over the last couple of years.”
Last year the New York Giants got 91 receptions from rookie Odell Beckham Jr. Jarvis Landry caught 84 for the Miami Dolphins. Seven receivers totaled more than 50 receptions.
Beckham’s 91 tied Eddie Royal for second all-time on the NFL rookie reception list.
The proliferation of spread offenses has made drafting college quarterbacks and offensive linemen sometimes more problematic. But the spread game is producing receivers with dramatically increased impact in an NFL that has tilted toward the pass as well.
“Much like our game, the passing game has become, I don’t know, in vogue in college football as well,” Fox said. “If you watched our practice today, there was some issues with taking the snap from under center. That’s one thing I know that they’re not doing as much in college now. As far as the passing game, just like our game, there are more passes in college football, as well.”
White may be coming in more NFL-ready than receivers of a decade or two ago. But he has other orientation issues.
He played almost exclusively the right side at West Virginia. He won’t be doing that in Chicago under offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
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“Moving him around a little bit is going to be different for him,” Gase said, “but I don't think intelligence-wise we have any concerns with him. We brought him in for his interview and he was outstanding, picked up what we taught him very quickly and was able to bring it back to us. Coach [Mike] Groh had a really good feel for him, and I think he's going to fit in well with us.
"We really like what he brought to the table, and we look for specific routes, and when we see one or two things, we know they can do the entire tree, so his speed, his body control, the way that he bursts off the ball, all those things we really liked.”
White said he felt like a college freshman all over again. Coaches only presented a very small selection of plays but White found out very quickly that he wasn’t in Kansas (or West Virginia) anymore, Toto.
“Did a lot of movement, left side and in the slot on the right side, slot in the left,” White said. “So a lot different than college. Just trying to get adjusted. First day. So it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. But I’m learning the system and trying to get better each and every day.”
That would qualify as Expectation No. 1 from the Bears.