By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Quite remarkably, Bears receiver Cam Meredith maintained that familiar look of poise on his face as he was carted away from the field with a devastating knee injury.
Meredith caught a pass late in the first quarter of Chicago’s 19-7 preseason win in Tennessee on Sunday, then had his left leg buckle on contact and give. He immediately grabbed that leg, and Bears teammates quickly called for medical personnel. The air cast was implemented and the cart came out.
And there was Meredith, suspected of having suffered a torn ACL, looking calm as can be as he was driven off the field.
“We fall down, but we get up!” Meredith tweeted Sunday evening. “Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback!”
Meredith’s will shouldn’t be doubted after coming this far. He played just one season of receiver at Illinois State after converting from quarterback, earning his way to the Bears’ training camp in 2015. He stuck with the team into 2016 and put together a breakout campaign, recording a team-best 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears had made Meredith their top receiver this season with the hopes he can keep getting better. But football can be a cruel game, and it left the team gutted for Meredith on Sunday. Monday brings the MRI to confirm the extent of Meredith’s injury and wonders for the Bears as to what’s next for them at receiver.
Kevin White must now solidify his place as a top receiver for the Bears. After all, Meredith’s emergence came while filling the void left by White after his second leg surgery in as many seasons. It was a pleasant surprise for the 2015 undrafted free agent to play the role of the 2015 No. 7 overall draft pick.
The 25-year-old White has been healthy since completing his rehab from surgery this offseason. Now, the Bears are hoping to see him become a more instrumental part of their offense. White has spoken of confidence, but it must be revealed in his game.
“We’ll just all have to see,” White said last week. “Sit back and watch. … Same player I’ve been since I was younger. Confident, hungry and ready to prove everyone wrong – just like I’ve always been.”
Added quarterback Mike Glennon of White: “The talent is there. It’s just a matter of him getting out on the field and doing it. He’s going to do that this season. I’m very confident in Kevin and what he brings to us.”
Glennon has relied on the sure-handed Meredith as his top target throughout the preseason. After Sunday’s injury, he began looking White’s way. In a third-down situation in the second quarter, he threw a strike over the middle to White, who made a quick move to get open. White popped off the turf and showed some excitement. The Bears had earlier drawn up a quick jump ball to White at the goal line, a play he likely would’ve made if not for a defensive pass interference.
The Bears are trying to unleash the beast they believe is within White. They feel that potential still remains after two surgeries and lost seasons. He’ll get the opportunity to show it as their top receiver.
Veteran Kendall Wright will likely see increased targets now with Meredith out of the mix. Glennon has leaned on Wright in his slot role. Victor Cruz could see more of a role, though he first must make the roster next weekend. Markus Wheaton could return soon after surgery to repair a fractured pinkie finger. Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy will fight for a spot on the roster while boasting a presence on special teams.
Then there’s Tanner Gentry, another undrafted rookie receiver. Gentry earned the Bears’ attention in training camp as the top target for Mitchell Trubisky on the third-team offense, making plays deep down the field with regularity. Like Trubisky, Gentry is now seeing reps elevated on the depth chart.
Sure enough, Gentry was on the receiving end of Sunday’s biggest Bears highlight when he hauled in a dime from Trubisky for a 45-yard touchdown. It was just like several of those highlights he brought to training camp.
“He just goes up and gets it,” Trubisky said of Gentry earlier in the preseason. “He does his job, and he’s been beating his man on the outside. The opportunities he’s been given, he has taken advantage of.”
The Bears will most likely keep Gentry around, and putting him on the practice squad risks losing him to another team. Gentry has taken on a new role in special teams as the Bears prepare for him to remain on their roster.
Now, with Meredith out, the Bears may turn to another undrafted free agent and see how far he can rise.