Hoge: Azzanni Might Actually Be Pushing Right Buttons With Kevin White

Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White runs on the field during an NFL football training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

BOURBONNAIS — As Mike Glennon’s pass down the right sideline hung in the air, it became obvious that Kevin White was going to have to go up and make a play on the ball. It was thrown well, in a place where White could use his size and athleticism to catch the ball over the much smaller defensive backs around him.

White rose up aggressively and pulled down the pass. Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni quickly ran over with some words of encouragement, as it was the highlight of White’s training camp so far.

Just two days ago, Azzanni told reporters that he had watched White’s West Virginia tape with him Monday morning because he “wanted (White) to see how he used to go up and just grab the ball out of the air.”

After Tuesday’s off day, White did exactly that on his first opportunity of Wednesday’s practice. It appeared the “college tape tactic” had worked.

Except the “college tape tactic” may have been overblown. Meeting with reporters after Wednesday’s practice, White refuted Azzanni’s story.

“That was amongst players: me, Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz. It was actually Kendall’s idea to watch each other’s college film since we had a little time off,” White said. “(We) watched mine, then watched Kendall’s, then watched Victor Cruz, when he was with the Giants. As far as that goes, that’s all I know.”

In other words, either Azzanni took credit for an idea that wasn’t his or White didn’t want his position coach to get the credit. That’s not exactly the kind of public dispute the Bears need just one week into Azzanni’s first training camp with the team.

But — for context — let’s rewind two days, because White does have a reason to be upset with how the story unfolded. Locally, it was written up the way it was told, with Azzanni having an honest discussion about White’s confidence and the coach’s efforts to keep him positive.

“We’ve just got to block out the noise for him,” Azzanni said. “I can’t let him read papers and media. I just can’t let him because there’s going to be some negative in there that gets into his head and he can’t let that happen. He’s got to be positive and we’ve got to go in our bunker in there and I’ve got to tell him how great he is all the time because he is.”

That quote, in conjunction with the nugget about the West Virginia tape, unfortunately turned into this headline from Pro Football Talk:

Bears trying to remind Kevin White he was once good at football

Whether Azzanni embellished the West Virginia tape idea or not, it turned into an unfair national headline, and thus, a distraction two days later. And even though Azzanni has yet to coach in a single game with the Bears, this isn’t the first time he has mentioned White’s sensitivity with words written or said about him.

“He doesn’t like things written about him — is he a bust, or all that,” Azzanni said back in May, the only other time he has spoken with reporters since taking the job.

Again, it was just an honest response, but it led to a line of questioning from a reporter to White about being a “bust” that the wide receiver clearly did not appreciate at the time.

So fast forward back to Wednesday, which started with White tweeting: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see..”

And the meaning behind the tweet?

“It was just a quote. I think some people may take a story and run with it. It wasn’t true so that’s just how I feel about some things, some people,” White said. “Like if I would tell you a secret and by the time it got across through everybody and got to me it wouldn’t be the same. So that’s really it.”

Asked later if it was “true or not true” that Azzanni showed him the West Virginia tape, White said: “Like I said. It was me, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz. Watched mine, watched Kendall’s, then watched Victor Cruz with the Giants.”

Of course, the more important issue here is whether or not there’s a strain in the relationship between White and Azzanni. That’s why this exchange during White’s press conference Wednesday seemed notable:

Reporter: “What is Coach Azzanni doing for you?”

White: “Coaching me like everyone else.”

Reporter: “Do you feel like he’s given you a boost at all?”

White: “As far as?”

Reporter: “Just helping you get better. Are there some specific areas that he’s dialing in on with you that are pushing you forward?”

White: “Yeah, I think everyone as a staff is helping me and everyone else get better.”

The irony, of course, is that this whole issue with Azzanni actually did make White better Monday. He practiced with urgency and was as aggressive as we’ve seen him. It was easily his best practice of training camp.

In fact, no one would blame head coach John Fox if he gave Azzanni a raise for pushing the right buttons with one of the team’s most important players. West Virginia tape aside, it actually seems like Azzanni has a good pulse for what White needs.

“I constantly hear that you can’t coach like this. You can’t coach like college in the NFL. I mean I don’t know. I don’t think that’s true. I think you can,” Azzanni said Monday. “I think they want it. I think they want that tight-knit brotherhood, that ‘Coach stay on me.’ I think they all want to be pushed and be good.”

Before this year, Azzanni had spent his entire 18-year coaching career in college football, so time will tell if his methods will work in the NFL, but there’s evidence — even with White — that they are working. Azzanni admits it’s corny, but he gives out little Green Army Men each evening to the “Soldier of the Day.” And while White may have taken exception to Azzanni’s involvement with the West Virginia tape, his eyes lit up when he was asked about the Green Army Men.

“It’s a competition. I’m trying to win that,” he said with conviction.

White came into Wednesday with one Green Army Man. Something tells me he had two by the end of the day.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.