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Cautious Bears could shut down injured rookie Kevin White for the season

Bears rookie Kevin White headed for surgery. Is his season over?

The master plan seemed to be unfolding as Bears general manager Ryan Pace had hoped. Rookie receiver Kevin White, drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in April, had enjoyed a promising morning Monday, doing some agility work and light running off to the side of the team's training camp practice.

Stuck on the physically unable to perform list with a shin injury that the team had failed to provide specifics on, White appeared to be progressing through a cautious rehabilitation program with few impediments.

But in the middle of last week, his recovery arc took a nose dive. As White attempted to escalate his on-field running, the receiver's movement became inhibited. Pace noticed an obvious limp in the rookie's gait. White himself felt pain in his shin that hadn't been present in almost two months.

In a blink, it all pointed toward a galling twist.

White's pain, the Bears announced Saturday, was the aggravation of a stress fracture in his left shin, an injury that had originally been diagnosed during organized team activities in June.

The inevitable next step for White: surgery to insert a rod into his leg to stabilize the tibia.

The big-picture significance? White's rookie season may be over before it ever started. He will be transferred to the reserve PUP list when the regular season begins, requiring him to miss at least six games. But Pace made clear Saturday morning that the organization has not ruled out shutting down their prized draft pick for the entire year.

"Our whole focus is his long-term health," Pace said. "I know he's going to be a great player for the Chicago Bears. I want to make sure that we protect him."

After detecting White's stress fracture during OTAs, Pace and the Bears' medical team had hoped the injury would heal on its own — with rest and a careful recuperation plan. And when White checked into Olivet Nazarene University last month, everything seemed to be on track.

"I was pain free," White said.

So the Bears proceeded with White continuing his rehabilitation work in the swimming pool and on an elliptical machine and VersaClimber before he resumed any on-field running.

Said Pace: "We were being very cautious. This guy's a big commodity for us. To me, it was kind of black and white. If he's having no pain, let's keep on going. Let's build him up slowly."

But ultimately, the best-case scenario slipped away last week.

Not wanting to let the team or the front office down, White admitted he was hesitant at first to report his pain.

"Probably the most difficult thing I've had to do in a while," White said. "Kind of just throwing in the towel. … I'm not ignorant about the situation. I knew it would probably lead to surgery."

The new reality floored the driven rookie. Saturday's news also serves as a gut punch to a fan base that saw White as a promising young player to track as the Bears' demanding rebuilding project continues.

Pace understands how crushed White was by the news and appreciated how the rookie openly expressed his disappointment, admitting he felt like he was letting the Bears down.

White had told Pace how much he had visualized contributing to the offense in the season opener against the Packers. And even after it became clear that he wouldn't be back on the field for a long time, White kept his nose in his playbook.

"I know he sincerely cares about this organization, about his teammates, about Coach Fox," Pace said. "It's from the bottom of his heart. … It's confirmed to me the type of person he is."

Still, little of that provides a soothing consolation prize, especially for an offense that was looking to take advantage of White's explosion and competitiveness as soon as possible. Now the team will work on contingency plans.

More will be demanded of starting receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal. Marquess Wilson and Marc Mariani appear in line to take on enhanced roles as well.

"You keep 53 men on the roster and you keep them for a reason," coach John Fox said. "Because you think they can play. It's an opportunity for guys to step up."

Pace also made it clear he will continue to keep his eyes moving around the league for receivers who might be able to help.

From a medical standpoint, with the extent of the surgery and the realities of the recovery process, the likelihood of White playing in 2015 is highly improbable.

"I want to make sure we do this the right way, not rush him back," Pace said. "Sometimes I feel like you have to protect (players) from themselves."

Added White: "It's the sport. It's not going to be all sunshine every day … If it's this season, then great. If it's next season, then I'll just have to wait."

It's a waiting game White and the Bears never envisioned having to play.

dwiederer@tribpub.com

Twitter @danwiederer

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