Kevin White

Bears suffer another huge loss with Jerrell Freeman going on injured reserve

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AP

Bears suffer another huge loss with Jerrell Freeman going on injured reserve

A day after it was learned that Kevin White was going on injured reserve with a fractured scapula, the Bears suffered another huge loss Tuesday, announcing that linebacker Jerrell Freeman was also placed on injured reserve.

The Bears said only that Freeman suffered an injury in Sunday's season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Monday, head coach John Fox told reporters that Freeman had a self-reported concussion as well as a pectoral muscle injury.

Freeman was one of the better defensive players in the league last season, his first with the Bears. He led the team with 86 total tackles, appearing in 12 games.

Freeman hasn't played an entire 16-game schedule since his second season in the league, 2013 with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Bears also made White's move to injured reserve official and announced that wide receiver Tanner Gentry and linebacker Jonathan Anderson were signed to the active roster from the practice squad. Additionally, running back Joshua Rounds and wide receiver Mario Alford were signed to the practice squad, and wide receiver Rueben Randle was released from injured reserve.

Bears promote preseason standout Tanner Gentry to 53-man roster

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AP

Bears promote preseason standout Tanner Gentry to 53-man roster

The Bears' wide-receiver carousel took another spin on Tuesday afternoon.

The Bears announced they've promoted wide receiver Tanner Gentry to the active roster and signed wideout Mario Alford to an already-thin positional group which is already without Cameron Meredith and just lost Kevin White to another potential season-ending injury.

Gentry, who was waived by the Bears and signed to the practice squad earlier this month, had four catches for 77 yards and one touchdown during the preseason. Gentry's touchdown came on a 45-yard pass from rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky against the Tennessee Titans.

Gentry went undrafted last May after a standout four-year career at Wyoming in which he caught 180 passes for 2,125 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Alford, who was White's college teammate at West Virginia, was originally selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Alford's one career catch came during his rookie season with the Bengals. He had eight punt returns for 68 yards and eight kickoff returns for 190 yards with the Cleveland Browns last season. He was waived by the team following the 2017 preseason.

In an additional roster move, the Bears promoted inside linebacker Jonathan Anderson to the active roster and placed Jerrell Freeman on injured reserve.

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

The Bears aren’t sure if Kevin White will return in 2017, with the star-crossed former seventh overall pick going on injured reserve with a fractured scapula.

Whether he does or doesn’t, though, won’t affect the question facing the Bears’ passing offense: Now what?

When training camp opened in late July, the Bears’ top three wide receivers were lined up to be Cameron Meredith (who’s out for the year), White (who may be out for the year) and Markus Wheaton (who didn’t play Sunday due to a fractured pinkie suffered in August). So where can the help come from, if it materializes at all?

Currently on the 53-man roster:

Kendall Wright didn’t catch his first pass Sunday until the fourth quarter. He’s a savvy route-runner who’s adept at getting open in space, but is primarily a slot receiver, which limits his opportunities to get on the field if…

— The Bears use more two- and three-tight end sets. Zach Miller was Mike Glennon’s second-most targeted player on Sunday (six times, with four catches for 39 yards), and coach John Fox made the point last week that when Miller was injured in 2016, he was the team’s best pass-catcher. Dion Sims caught two passes and could be utilized more as a big body up the seam. Rookie Adam Shaheen didn’t show much during preseason but played a handful of snaps, but he and his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame could be molded into a useful weapon in certain situations.

“He’s getting better every day, every week,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “We’ll just keep practicing. He’s going to fill a role for us right now and it’s a deep position for us so we’re fortunate that we can develop a talented player and he’ll have a role and that role will continue to grow as he’s ready to take on more.”

Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy haven’t been more than 20-catch, 300-yard receivers with special teams value in their respective careers, but may be counted on to do more going forward. Bellamy in particular played well late against the Falcons, and while a possible game-winning touchdown hit him in the hands, it looked like he was held and had his timing disrupted on that play.

— Ryan Pace said last week the Bears “we’re excited about adding” Tre McBride, a waiver claim from the Baltimore Ravens. McBride was inactive last week and only has two career receptions for eight yards. “He spent last week getting kind of oriented in our offense, he's a possibility,” coach John Fox said.

Markus Wheaton is “improving,” Fox said Monday, but has yet to practice without a club on his hand to protect his healing pinkie. He has the established speed to at least be a deep threat for opposing secondaries, but only played in three games last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a shoulder issue that required surgery in January. If he can return to the field soon, he could add an important dimension to the Bears’ offense, so long as he’s able to stay healthy.

“I haven’t played a lot of football yet,” Wheaton said last week. “I’m sure it’ll come quick once I start playing again.” 

Tarik Cohen was outstanding on Sunday, catching eight passes for 47 yards and plowing through cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 19-yard touchdown. But can the 5-foot-6, 181 pound Cohen hold up over a full 16-game season taking the kind of shots he did from the Falcons’ defense? He’s shown impressive toughness, but given his early status as the best playmaker in this offense, may need to be calculated about the risks he takes (i.e., going down/out of bounds against zone coverage to avoid the biggest of hits).

Jordan Howard wanted to improve his all-around game in 2017, but the drop he had near the end zone late Sunday hurt. He only had 13 carries, though, and if the Bears’ offense can find a way to be effective while making sure he’s fresh throughout games and the entire season, it’ll benefit this group as a whole.

Benny Cunningham has pass-catching ability as a third-down back, but suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. That may lead to waiver claim Taquan Mizzell, who caught 195 passes in college at Virginia, being active against Tampa Bay to fill Cunningham’s role.

Not on the roster, for now:

— Training camp star Tanner Gentry could be an option if the Bears elevate him off the practice squad. He has a better understanding of the offense than anyone the Bears could acquire from outside the organization, which could help him step in faster. But the Bears decided against keeping him on their initial roster, and he wasn’t claimed on waivers by any of the other 31 teams in the league. Perhaps Gentry develops into a solid player, but it’s worth remembering the last undrafted rookie receiver to make it with the Bears (Meredith) only had 11 catches for 120 yards in his first year.

— The free agent pool at this time of the year, obviously, is limited. Could someone like a Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught 36 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns last year, be an option? Possibly, though teams have had two and a half months to sign the former second-round pick and haven’t, likely due to off-the-field questions. Former Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson is out there, but tore his ACL last year and, at the age of 34, has seen his production sharply decline over the last three years. The Bears’ front office will continue to scour the free agent, and possibly trade, markets, but finding an impact guy in mid-September will be difficult.

“When injuries happen in the league is, how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up?” Fox said. “We dealt with that more than our share last year and it's not unusual but we'll adjust.”