Daniel Braverman

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Wednesday's unit: the wide receivers.

1. Kevin White

Need we say more? Okay, we will. Or ... maybe not. You guys are already familiar with the career numbers for the 2015 seventh overall draft pick: Four games played. 28 games missed. 19 catches. 187 yards. Zero touchdowns. Two serious injuries and surgeries on his left fibula. Oh, and he’ll be working with three new quarterbacks and a third wide receivers coach in as many years. That. Is. A. Lot.

“It’s got to happen now,”  White said in June of a potential Bears career crossroads season. “I’ve got to turn it up. So to me, year three, it’s time.”

2. Who gets hot in the slot?

If Cam Meredith and White get through the preseason healthy (and with the Bears the past two seasons, a big “if”), the position battle turns to playing time in the slot, where Eddie Royal was supposed to be the answer in the Ryan Pace/John Fox regime. Ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton was given the sweetest contract of a free agent trip (two years, $11 million, six million guaranteed) and has the most speed. Kendall Wright excelled with a 94-catch season with the Tennessee Titans under Dowell Loggains in 2013, until gradually sinking further into the doghouse. And Victor Cruz has the tape — two great seasons with the New York Giants. But the second of those was five years ago for the now-30-year-old, and he played a total of six games in injury-plagued 2014 and 2015 seasons. If this trio all proves something, and deserving of roster spots, that may only leave Josh Bellamy (who’s proven value on special teams) as the sixth receiver, along with White and Meredith.

"The more routes I run, the more I build a rapport with Mike [Glennon] and get myself out there learning the plays," Cruz said after his signing, "I think I have that potential to be the guy you saw a few years ago.

"We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity," said Wheaton. "A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove."

3. An unexpected, immediate-impact surprise?

Deonte Thompson had 22 catches when pressed into action last season, and has a history with new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni at Florida (2010), but now has competition after a year and a half as the primary kickoff returner. Rueben Randle had a 71-catch season three years ago with the Giants, helping them offset the loss of Cruz, but must overcome a “lazy” reputation after not hooking on with a team at all last season. Daniel Braverman was All-Bourbonnais a year ago, but the seventh-round rookie (and "future Wes Welker") got into only three December games, with zero catches. Wheaton-Warrenville South product Titus Davis (older brother of Titans' 2017 first-round pick Corey Davis) is only 24 and "retired" from New York Jets camp a year ago. A darkhorse (perhaps only for the practice squad) could be undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, who has size (6-foot-2) and a catch radius after leading the NCAA with 49 deep target throws (22 receptions) from potential top 2018 draft pick Josh Allen at Wyoming last season.

Report: Bears schedule visit with former Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz

Report: Bears schedule visit with former Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz

After releasing one veteran wide receiver on Thursday, the Bears will reportedly meet with another next week.

According to NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, former New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is scheduled to meet with the Bears.

After missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, Cruz bounced back to play in 15 games with the Giants in 2016. He had 39 receptions for 586 yards and a touchdown.

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Cruz, 30, has appeared in 67 career NFL games and has accumulated 303 receptions for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Cruz helped the Giants capture the Lombardi Trophy in a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. During the 2011 playoffs, Cruz had 21 receptions for 269 yards and a touchdown.

If the Bears sign Cruz, he'll join an already crowded wide receiver group which includes Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman and Rueben Randle

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Creating WR depth while waiting for Kevin White's emergence

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Creating WR depth while waiting for Kevin White's emergence

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Seventh in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Alshon Jeffery is on to Philadelphia after striking a one-year deal with the Eagles. For an offense that has let go of Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler since the arrival of John Fox and his coaching staff in 2015, the search for replacement firepower has seldom been more urgent.

The splash from Cameron Meredith (14 games, 66 receptions) was a significant bright spot from the dismal '16. Bears are still waiting for some impact — ANY impact — from Kevin White after making him the No. 7 pick of the '15 draft and seeing his two NFL seasons end with broken leg bones. White was leading the Bears with 19 catches through four games last season when he was lost for the year, so some very guarded optimism is allowable.

"Kevin is going to have to step up, stay healthy, and he knows that, and he's motivated," said GM Ryan Pace. "We're excited about a handful of guys and we still have the draft ahead of us, too."

The free-agency addition of Eddie Royal in '15 was intended to bring an immediate infusion of veteran savvy and production at the nickel spot. Both his seasons were gutted by injuries, with a total of 70 receptions, the second-lowest two-year total of his nine-year career. Royal had foot surgery in December and is expected to be released when sufficiently healed.

This offseason was marked by a commitment to upgrading wideout speed, coming in the forms of Markus Wheaton from Pittsburgh and Kendall Wright from Tennessee.

"Markus is a deep threat receiver," Pace said. "[In] 2015 he was Top 10 in reception average. I really like his makeup and his toughness going all the way back to Oregon State, but he's a guy who can really run and gives us that element in our offense that I think that we need, speed. Unfortunately, he had a shoulder injury last year that happened kind of early in the season and then eventually needed surgery on it. But he's fully cleared now and we feel good about that now."

Pre-draft depth-chart'ing starters

WR - Kevin White

WR - Cam Meredith

WR - Markus Wheaton/Kendall Wright

Reserves: Dres Anderson, Josh Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Rueben Randle, Eddie Royal, Deonte Thompson

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Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

Names were added to the pool of options but none of the stature of Jeffery, and until the aggregate proves to better than simply average, the Bears will always look to add impact points-producers when the options present themselves. Rarely has their receiver corps had so many unprovens going into a season.

The organization believes White's run of bad luck is due to change and reduced some of the positional urgency with the offseason additions. Wheaton signed a two-year deal, Wright for one year, Meredith has had just one meaningful season and White is a virtual "rookie" for the third straight year.

Pace has drafted a wideout in each of his two drafts, White in '15 and Braverman last year. Braverman played three games without a catch and will be in another intense competition for a roster spot. Best guess would be a late-round wideout with abilities to enhance the return game.

Keep an eye on ...

Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois — Caught 160 passes over two NIU seasons. Fits Bears' template for size (6-4, 218) and had private workout with them.

Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska — Bears staffed his workout and could find a spot as a practice-squad player able to fill nickel role.

Chad Williams, Grambling — Private workout for Bears, had huge production and may be a value late-round pick for development.