SOLDIER FIELD — Kevin White caught one pass for three yards. Leonard Floyd didn’t even play. And that’s how Saturday’s preseason game went for Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s two first round draft picks.
There weren’t many positives in the Bears’ 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. All three phases were sloppy and provided plenty to overreact to in what was still a game that didn’t count.
But there’s a difference between overreacting and pondering fair questions. Here’s one of those questions: Do we know if Kevin White and Leonard Floyd can play?
On one hand, the Bears reported to training camp just one month ago and both first round picks are still going through their first preseason after White missed all of last year with a leg fracture. On the other hand, the Bears reported to training camp a month ago and neither player has stood out in a game or even provided a “wow” moment in practice.
This of course does not mean that either White or Floyd are in danger of being busts — it’s way, way too early for that kind of conversation. But their quiet starts are somewhat disconcerting. First impressions matter. When the pads go on, you can usually tell right away how far away a rookie is from contributing. For example, Shea McClellin looked completely overmatched in his first training camp. Meanwhile, after just a few practices in 2013, I was confident enough to declare “(Kyle Long) could certainly win the starting right guard job over James Brown by Week 1.”
This year actually hasn’t been much different. Cody Whitehair was good enough to be identified as a starter the night the Bears drafted him. Jonathan Bullard made a similar first impression as Long did as a rookie, showing he belonged very quickly. In fact, the majority of Pace’s first two draft classes look like contributors, even if it’s too early to be making grand proclamations.
But if we learned anything during Saturday’s sluggish performance against the Chiefs, it’s that the Bears’ rebuilding job is going to take longer than most thought. Either Pace and John Fox have been downplaying the amount of turnover needed, or they have been somewhat caught off guard by the empty cupboard of talent Phil Emery and Marc Trestman left them. It’s probably a bit of both.
But that’s why White and Floyd are so important. Pace knows he has to build through the draft. And while it’s great that he appears to be hitting on later picks, you have to land the big fish in the first round, especially when you make two selections in the top nine.
Fast. Athletic. Explosive. These are all words to describe White and Floyd. But guess what? They are words you can use to describe most first round picks. That’s why they are being drafted in the first round. You still have to be able to play football — be able to play your position. Can White run the full NFL route tree? Is Floyd strong enough to beat NFL offensive tackles? These are questions that haven’t even begun to be answered a full month since the two reported to Bourbonnais.
To be clear, no one is hitting the panic button just yet, but the early results have been underwhelming. In three games, White has just three catches for 12 yards on eight targets. Floyd has three tackles in two games to go along with half of a sack.
Yes, I’m citing preseason stats. And yes, it’s kind of stupid. But turn on the tape and you’ll also notice that White has dropped two passes, didn’t line up properly against the Patriots and ran the wrong route against the Chiefs. Most importantly, he clearly hasn’t earned the trust of Jay Cutler — a very important requirement throughout the quarterback’s career.
“There is going to be growing pains. That’s just how it is,” Cutler said about White Saturday. “He missed his rookie year, not playing a ton of college football, and then just throwing him out there. There’s just going to be some growing pains. That’s just kind of how it is.”
All of this is fair and understandable, especially considering White had a rod inserted to his leg last year. That said, he’s still the No. 7 overall pick and, fair or not, he’s the Bears’ No. 2 wide receiver (by a mile). When the games start to count — in just 15 days, by the way — the Bears are going to depend on White not to drop the ball or run the wrong route.
“We’re working with him,” Cutler insisted. “He’s doing everything he possibly can to work through it and be where he’s supposed to be. And, he understood it. I talked to him on the sideline, and I just told him that this is going to happen, but now you know and now it can’t happen again.”
It really can’t, but it probably will. White is still a rookie, even if he’s technically not a rookie. But the mistakes will be easier to swallow if White also makes the big plays. The speed, athleticism and explosion are consistently on display in practice, but so far haven’t led to production in games. Is offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains hiding White a little bit, or is the wide receiver having problems running all the routes? Can he be a reliable receiver or are drops going to be an issue, like they were during the offseason program and, by his own admission, at times at West Virginia?
Similar questions can be asked about Floyd, who didn’t even play Saturday after dealing with a hamstring/leg injury this week. Floyd was dressed, and appeared anxious to get the game, but he never did.
“We just held him out,” Fox said, being evasive as usual.
But this is the same coach who reiterated just three days ago that there’s a difference between “owies” and injuries. So by that philosophy, if Floyd was in uniform and ready to go, why didn’t he play?
Like White a year, Floyd’s biggest struggle so far is being available. An illness, a shoulder injury and now the hamstring/leg injury has cost him valuable reps in practice and in Saturday’s game. Floyd has actually flashed a little bit against the run, but the Bears traded up to No. 9 for him to rush the passer and when they start the season in Houston in 15 days, Floyd will be (at best) the fourth best pass rusher on an average defense. Considering it will be his first real NFL game, that’s not the end of the world. But if he finishes his rookie season as the Bears’ fourth best pass rusher, that will likely be an issue.
Which gets us back to the original point. It’s perfectly OK for rookies to need time to develop. That’s normal. But top nine picks still need to provide significant contributions early and the preseason has been void of evidence that that is going to happen.
On a day full of concerns at Soldier Field, this was the biggest one.