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NFL morning after: Bears make a statement in a muddy marathon

bearsmud AP

No teams played under tougher circumstances than the Bears and Ravens on Sunday, who kicked off at noon local time, endured a two-hour delay when a torrential downpour hit Chicago in the first quarter, then returned to play one of the muddiest, sloppiest football games you’ll ever see.

And when the game was over and Chicago’s Robbie Gould kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime, no team had done more to put itself back into the NFL playoff picture than the Bears.

Last week, when the Lions completed a season sweep of the Bears, it appeared that Chicago’s chances of winning the NFC North had slipped away. That feeling was compounded in Chicago by the news after the game that two of the team’s most important players, quarterback Jay Cutler and cornerback Charles Tillman, had suffered injuries in losses to the Lions.

But the injury-plagued Bears weren’t going to give up easily, and they played well on both sides of the ball on Sunday against the Ravens. Backup quarterback Josh McCown completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions. And that injury-plagued defense (missing not only Tillman but linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Henry Melton) held Joe Flacco to 162 yards on 17-of-31 passing, with two interceptions.

“I wish everybody could see the progression that goes in to winning a game like this, from the time we left the locker room last week devastated from a division loss,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said after the game. “To see the energy to be able to sustain itself through a five and a half hour game.”

The Bears aren’t a great team. Their run defense, which allowed the previously struggling Ravens running back Ray Rice to gain 131 yards, still stinks. And although they did catch up to the Lions in the NFC North (thanks to the Lions’ loss to the Steelers), Detroit still has the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Chicago.

But the Bears showed on Sunday that they’ve still got a lot of fight left in them. And with an easy schedule the rest of the way (the 6-5 Eagles are the only winning team the Bears face in their final six games), it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Bears in the playoffs.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Players, hold onto the ball as you’re running to the end zone. Saints cornerback Corey White intercepted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and raced toward the end zone, with Kaepernick giving chase. As White neared the goal line, instead of simply cradling the football the way players are taught to from Pop Warner forward, White inexplicably started holding the ball with two hands in front of him, then dropped the ball, fumbling it out of the end zone and turning it back over to the 49ers. It’s amazing how often players fumble as they’re running to the end zone, as if they’re already preparing their end zone celebration before they actually get to the end zone.

Worst call of the day? Detroit’s fake field goal. The Lions were controlling Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, up 27-23 in the fourth quarter, when they had a fourth down at the Steelers’ 10-yard line. Instead of kicking the easy 28-yard field goal and taking a 30-23 lead, the Lions tried a fake field goal, punter Sam Martin fumbled the ball, and Pittsburgh recovered. From there, the Steelers dominated the rest of the game, marching down the field after that botched fake field goal to take the lead, then padding their lead with another touchdown in the fourth quarter to win 37-27. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that he called for the fake because he wanted to be aggressive. He should have taken the three points.

We still can’t figure out the Jets. With Sunday’s loss to the Bills, the Jets became the only team in NFL history to alternate wins with losses in each of their first 10 games of the season. The Jets have lost to bad teams like the Bills and Steelers, but they’ve also beaten good teams like the Patriots and Saints. If you only saw their 38-13 loss to the Titans, 49-9 loss to the Bengals and Sunday’s 37-14 loss to the Bills, you’d think the Jets were the worst team in the NFL. But every time they lose, they bounce back with a win. And despite Sunday’s ugly showing, the Jets are still in the playoff hunt.

Vontaze Burfict is a knucklehead, but he’s a knucklehead who makes plays all over the field. Burfict, the Bengals’ second-year linebacker who wasn’t drafted last year because teams were too leery of his character issues, had another personal foul penalty on Sunday. But he was also an absolutely dominant presence, with 15 total tackles and a brutal hit that forced a fumble, which Burfict scooped up and ran to the end zone for a touchdown. Burfict is a great linebacker.

Matt McGloin’s first start was a stunner. Not only was McGloin not drafted coming out of Penn State this year, but most people who saw him play in college never thought he’d be more than an extra arm for some team at training camp. The idea that he’d make the Raiders as an undrafted rookie would have sounded farfetched, and the idea that he’d actually start a game in his rookie year would have seemed absurd. But not only did McGloin start on Sunday, but he threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions while leading the Raiders to a win over the Texans. McGloin became the first quarterback since the common draft began in 1967 to go undrafted and have a three-touchdown, no-interception game as a rookie.

Percy Harvin makes an outstanding Seahawks team even better. The Seahawks managed to go 9-1 without the injured Harvin, who made his Seattle debut on Sunday. Now that Harvin is healthy, he makes an enormous difference: The first time the Seahawks threw his way, the Vikings committed pass interference. The second time, Harvin caught the pass for 17 yards. The next time Harvin got the ball, he returned a kickoff 58 yards. On the Vikings’ next kickoff after that, they were so concerned about Harvin’s ability to break a long return that they pooch kicked it to the 30-yard line, giving Seattle great field position. Harvin is a major addition to a team that was already the best in the NFC.

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Eagles lose Travis Long to torn ACL for second straight year

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Eagles linebacker Travis Long missed the entire season last year with a torn left ACL suffered in August. And now he’ll miss his second straight season after tearing the same ACL today.

The Eagles have confirmed that Long tore his left ACL in practice again today and will not play this season.

It’s obviously devastating news for a young man who now has to to be wondering if he’ll ever get to realize his dream of playing in the NFL. And it’s bad news for the Eagles, as well. Although Long wasn’t expected to be a big part of the defense, the Eagles don’t have a lot of depth at outside linebacker and thought Long could be a contributor there, and on special teams.

Long also tore his right ACL in 2012 at Washington State.

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Mortensen talks 11-of-12 footballs report on ESPN Radio

Mort Getty Images

On Friday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen bailed on an interview with WEEI aimed at addressing the delayed firestorm regarding his report that 11 of 12 footballs used by the Patriots in the first half of the AFC Championship were two pounds under the minimum allowable inflation of 12.5 PSI. On Monday, Mort appeared on ESPN Radio’s The Dan Le Batard Show to discuss the situation.

I tuned in a little late, and I plan to listen to the on-demand version and type up some of the most important responses. For now, here are the highlights based on the fastest hunting-and-pecking I could do while Mort was talking.

First, Mortensen said that he adjusted the report early on from “two pounds under” to “significantly underinflated.”

“I will never retract that,” Mortensen said of the revised report that the balls were “significantly underinflated.”  But he admitted that the two-pounds-under report was “obviously in error” and that it “technically was a mistake” to not retract it on Twitter. (The tweet still lives.)

The softened claim that the footballs were “significantly underinflated” is far more ambiguous than the hard numbers, which were generated by two air pressure gauges that varied by 0.45 PSI. It also overlooks the fact that cold weather and wet conditions will cause the PSI readings to drop.

So is it accurate to say that the footballs were “significantly underinflated”? Would it have been more accurate to say that the footballs were “underinflated”? Would it have been the most accurate to report the numbers actually measured by the two conflicting gauges?

Mortensen also pointed out that his report didn’t directly implicate Brady or the Patriots, but this explanation overlooks the importance of the original report to the story. It took what was a curiosity and converted it into a presumption that someone had tampered with the footballs, and that the only questions to be resolved were who did it and who knew about it?

If the actual numbers had been reported early on, the Patriots could have defused the bomb quickly, pointing to the discrepancy between the two gauges (which arguably is enough to justify a conclusion that the numbers are inconclusive) and explaining that one set of measurements falls squarely within the range predicted by the Ideal Gaw Law.

Mortensen also said he has recently spoken to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. While declining to delve into any details of the conversation, Mortensen said that Kraft told him, “Our fight is not with you. It’s with the NFL.”

Mort has no issue with the NFL. He said he doesn’t feel betrayed because he sought out the information.

Still, he was given false information. And even though he at some point changed the report to “significantly underinflated,” Mortensen told WEEI in January that he sought further confirmation of the accuracy of the two-pounds-under report, and that he received it.

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘is there any discrepancies in what I reported, because I want to know,’” Mortensen said at the time. “And I was just told, ‘No, you were right on.’”

Mort continues to be in a tough spot, and multiple someones at the league office owe him plenty of favors for taking the bullet on this one. And even though Mort never will give up his sources (and he shouldn’t), it would be easy for the NFL to investigate whether one or more league-office employees talked to Mortensen at or about the time of his initial report, and to find out who leaked the false information to him.

Assuming, of course, that none of the relevant persons have destroyed their cell phones.

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Jordan Cameron: I know I can be a Pro Bowl player

Brent Grimes, Jordan Cameron AP

The Dolphins made a change at tight end this offseason when they let Charles Clay go to Buffalo without matching the Bills’ offer for the restricted free agent and signed Jordan Cameron away from the Browns.

It’s a move that would have looked like an upgrade after the 2013 season. Cameron had 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns that year and looked like a rising star at the position. That star took on some tarnish last season as shoulder and head injuries helped limit him to just 24 catches in 10 games. The Dolphins would obviously like something closer to the 2013 numbers and Cameron says he feels capable of providing them.

“In my mind I know I can play,” Cameron said, via ESPN.com. “I know I can be a Pro Bowl player. I’m trying to help this team win. Right now I’m not going to set any goals and tell you what I’m going to do in the season. Right now I’m getting better at my craft and that’s the only thing I’m focusing on.”

Durability remains a question mark for Cameron, whose 2013 totals are more than the rest of his career combined, but he should get a boost from playing with a stable starting quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Clay was targeted frequently the last two seasons and a healthy Cameron could approach his past highs if the Dolphins continue to make the tight end a focal point after overhauling their receiving corps this offseason.

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Jury tipster had “sexually explicit relationship” with Hernandez

Hernandez Getty Images

If you thought that the situation involving former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez couldn’t get any more bizarre, you thought wrong.

Via the Boston Herald, the anonymous tipster who contacted Hernandez lawyer James Sultan had  been involved in a “sexually explicit relationship” with Hernandez, “prior to and during the trial.”

The tipster, identified in court papers as only as “Katy,” told Sultan that a juror was “untruthful” during jury selection regarding knowledge of separate murder charges pending against Hernandez.

Sultan wants to question the tipster under oath. Prosecutors oppose the effort, claiming that “Katy” had ulterior motives to make an “implausible” allegation.

If “Katy” isn’t Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, the development is awkward, to say the least. It also will invite curiosity regarding the visitation rules at the jail where Hernandez was held before and during trial.

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Broncos’ Britton Colquitt takes a pay cut, just like Peyton Manning

Britton Colquitt AP

There’s a cost that comes with doling out huge contracts to keep star players.

In Seattle, it means guys get cut. In Denver, they take pay cuts.

According to the Associated Press, Broncos punter Britton Colquitt took a $1.4 million pay cut Monday, dropping his salary from $3 million to $1.6 million.

He was once the league’s highest-paid punter, but after the Broncos signed wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to a four-year, $70 million deal, they had to start looking under the couch cushions. Of course, quarterback Peyton Manning took a $4 million haircut himsef.

I’m not mad about it,” Colquitt said . “It’s part of the business, and I’m confident in our team this year and the ability God has given me. And I feel that I’m going to have a better year than I’ve had in the past. It’s no big deal. Money’s not why I’m doing this. . . .

“I mean, Demaryius had to get taken care of somehow. Peyton took a little hit a couple months ago. So, I mean, Peyton’s a good guy to follow, a good example.”

Of course, the problem might now be that he makes less than his brother Dustin of the Chiefs, who’s making $2.95 million this year.

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Tom Brady will appear in court on the 12th

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signs autographs during an NFL football training camp in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) AP

It may not have been smart for Tom Brady to destroy/dismantle/whatever his phone, but he’ll be doing the smart thing next Wednesday. According to Albert Breer of NFL Media, Brady will appear in court on August 12, for the first of two settlement conferences with Judge Richard M. Berman.

Albert Breer of NFL Media, whose tweets regarding the possibility of Brady participating by phone kicked up a mini-storm of something other than sand, reports that Brady will attend in person and that “was always the plan.”

But if it was always the plan, there should have been no reason for anyone to inquire regarding the procedure for appearing by phone. And there should have been no reason for the NFLPA to explain it would “follow Brady’s guidance.”

Our guess is that the NFLPA poked around about participating by phone because Brady asked to do it that way, and that the NFLPA heard enough to reconfirm the notion that it wouldn’t have been wise to seek permission to not attend.

The wisest move would have been to not even poke around. Merely asking the question can create a question about how committed a litigant is to doing what the judge wants. The best approach in these cases always is to show a full and unconditional commitment to attend whenever and wherever the judge requests.

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Report: Star Lotulelei injury not believed to be serious

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Panthers lost wide receiver Stephen Hill to a torn ACL over the weekend and saw a more integral part of their team need the assistance of a cart to make it back to the locker room during Monday’s practice.

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei appeared to suffer a right foot injury during the session and was seen icing it while riding with medical personnel. Lotulelei broke a bone in his foot during a practice before the Panthers faced the Seahawks in the playoffs in January, so seeing the same part of his body receiving treatment was a reason for concern even after coach Ron Rivera said Lotulelei was sore.

“We might be being overly protective about it,” Rivera said, via the Associated Press.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that anyone not reassured by Rivera’s words can breathe a little easier. Werder reports that the injury is “not believed” to be serious, although Lotulelei will wear a protective boot on his foot to ensure that it doesn’t get any more serious.

 

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Report: Matt Elam to miss entire season

Matt Elam AP

Coach John Harbaugh wasn’t optimistic about safety Matt Elam’s status after he suffered an arm injury over the weekend and it doesn’t look like Harbaugh will be having any pleasant surprises on that front.

The reports on Monday morning that the Ravens were “not counting” on having Elam on the field this season because of a torn biceps have been followed by one from Ed Werder of ESPN with a Ravens source confirming a full tear of the muscle. That means surgery and a spot on injured reserve for the third-year safety.

Elam was trying to bounce back from a 2014 season that saw him knocked out of the lineup in favor of Will Hill and the former first-round pick had drawn some good reviews from coaches after the team made it plain that it was rapidly approaching now-or-never in terms of Elam contributing to the team.

Hill and Kendrick Lewis are the expected starters at safety and the Ravens are short on experienced options behind them, which could lead them to make an addition or two as cuts start happening around the league.

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Andrew Quarless back to work after “the saddest day of my life”

Quarless Getty Images

Andrew Quarless thought this offseason was tough. Then came what he called “the saddest day of my life.”

Earlier today, the Packers tight end told reporters the reason he missed the start of training camp was because his baby daughter died during birth.

“I thank this team for the type of support they have given me to help me get through this,” he said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Just very thankful for these guys. It’s really a family in here. It’s really a family. I’m looking forward my first day getting back out there today. It felt real good. It felt real good just to get out there, catch some passes, be able to run around a little bit, kind of get back to your old self and get back into things.”

Normal has been hard to come by for him this offseason, after he was arrested in Miami for firing a gun during an incident at a parking garage. He said he talked to coach Mike McCarthy after that, and apologized for “bringing negativity to this place.”

That’s why he was hoping for another child to help bring some balance, and why it was important to him to have his 5-year-old son by his side today, saying “he was really looking forward to being a big brother.”

“It’s been a lot. It’s been a lot,” Quarless said. “As you grow older as a man, you really understand life and you really understand things. I’m so appreciative of this team. Even from the incident earlier in the month, there’s just been so much support. More than I feel like sometimes I might deserve. Just the amount of love from everybody, it’s really been good for me. It’s hard to explain how much that means to me. I’m just thankful. . . .

“Today was rough. I’m a little drained. I was drained the past couple of days. Just to get out there today, it was a great feeling. It was a great feeling being around my teammates having fun and actually smile. Actually to smile and be happy, that was good for me.”

That training camp can do that for a man who has been through that kind of trauma is amazing, as the team has become a place of refuge for Quarless at a time of such tragedy.

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Tom Brady shouldn’t ask for permission to appear in court by phone

Phone Getty Images

Happy birthday, Tom Brady. I have a present for you, on the day you turn 38.

I picked it out myself, during a search that spanned 18 years of practicing law. Based on those 18 years of practicing law, I can tell you one thing, in no uncertain terms.

Do not attempt to participate in the August 12 or August 19 settlement conferences with Judge Richard M. Berman by phone. Don’t do it. Don’t even ask for it. Get your ass to Manhattan, and make it clear to Judge Berman’s clerk that you’re happy to get your ass to Manhattan, whenever the judge wants your ass (and the rest of you) there.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the parties may be able to participate in the mandatory August 12 settlement conference by phone, but that they’ll have to present a good reason for doing so. Breer separately explains that the NFL (and presumably Commissioner Roger Goodell) will be there in person. Breer also reports that the NFLPA “will follow Brady’s guidance.”

The fact that it’s the NFLPA following Brady’s guidance and not the other way around is troubling. Lawyers need their clients to buy in, completely. Clients need to be ready to do whatever the lawyers tell them to do, without hesitation.

In this case, the lawyers need to tell Brady to get his ass to Manhattan on August 12, and he needs to say, “Whatever you need, I’ll be there.”

When dealing with a federal judge, it’s important to always show a high degree of deference and respect. When dealing with a federal judge who already has made it clear that he’ll be taking control of the case and aggressively pushing it toward settlement, it becomes important to show even more deference and respect.

In this case, it means getting your ass to Manhattan on August 12, without reservation or equivocation or even exploring the possibility of phoning in. Intended or not, every word and action sends a message, and if the message is anything other than, “Whatever you need, I’ll be there,” it’s not a good message.

Does it mean Brady will lose the case if he doesn’t show up in person? No. But the mindset that has him thinking it would be a good idea to not get his ass to Manhattan could manifest itself in other ways that could end up making the judge frustrated with Brady.

At some point, Judge Berman could start to wonder whether Brady is demonstrating the sort of entitlement that helps explain why he refused to give his phone to Ted Wells, why Brady dismantled/destroyed/whatever his phone on the same day he was due to meet with Wells, and whether Brady decided he could get away with having Beavis and Butthead take the top off game balls in order to make them easier to grip.

Brady wants the judge to restore to Brady the ability to play in four regular-season games. To persuade the judge to give Brady what he wants, Brady needs to treat the judge like the Wizard of Oz.

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Haloti Ngata lands on non-football injury list

Haloti Ngata AP

When it became clear that the Lions wouldn’t hold onto defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, one of the first things they did was swing a deal with the Ravens to acquire behemoth Haloti Ngata.

Ngata’s training camp debut is going to have to wait, however. The team announced Monday that Ngata has been placed on the non-football injury list.

The Lions didn’t disclose the injury that’s keeping Ngata out of the lineup and there’s a chance that the team is just being cautious now in hopes of allowing Ngata to work himself into football shape on the sideline before jumping into the middle of drills. Ngata worked through a variety of injuries during his time in Baltimore, but only missed nine games in nine years and four of those were because of a suspension.

Tyrunn Walker and Caraun Reid will likely see increased playing time while Ngata is off the field for a defense that’s hoping to repeat last year’s success despite Suh’s trip to South Florida.

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DeSean Jackson: I don’t think anyone can guard me

the San Francisco 49ers play the Washington Redskins Getty Images

DeSean Jackson led the league with 20.9 yards per catch last season and he’s been one of the top big-play threats in the league for several years.

He doesn’t sound like a man who expects to see a drop in that area in the 2015 season. The Redskins wide receiver was asked Monday what it is like going up against cornerback Chris Culliver during practices and responded that Culliver had one thing in common with every other cornerback in the NFL.

“I don’t think no one can guard me,” Jackson said, via ESPN.com. “It’s how I feel about myself. I don’t feel no one can stop me. You can get Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman — whoever you want to get.”

Jackson’s big plays were a big part of the Redskins offense last season, but his 56 catches for the year don’t exactly fit with being uncoverable by anyone that an opponent can throw your way. Jackson says he’d “love to do more” for the offense this season and hopes chemistry with Robert Griffin III as well as increased play action passing allow that to happen. One test he’ll have to overcome is an October 18 matchup with Revis that will almost certainly be hyped up with the above quote,

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Steelers corner Senquez Golson may need season-ending surgery

Senquez Golson AP

There’s a reason the Steelers were so aggressive in their pursuit of cornerback Brandon Boykin.

One of the guys they hoped to have this year to fix their secondary problems might not play at all.

According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, rookie cornerback Senquez Golson may need season-ending shoulder surgery.

Golson, their second-round pick from Ole Miss, opened camp on the physically unable to perform list after injuring himself during spring workouts. They’re currently exploring all their options, but the fact they called the Eagles back to acquire Boykin is instructive.

The Steelers gave up a fifth-round pick which can become a fourth if Boykin plays in 60 percent of the team’s snaps, and he might, as he’s competing with Cortez Allen and William Gay for a starting job.

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Pierre-Paul still plans to stay away until he’s healthy

Pierre-Paul Getty Images

As explained last month, we said that Jason Pierre-Paul’s best move would be to hold out until healthy. That’s apparently what he plans to do.

Via Ed Werder of ESPN, nothing changed in the aftermath of the conversation between Pierre-Paul and G.M. Jerry Reese. Pierre-Paul won’t show up until he can pass a physical and play.

The reason for that is simple. If JPP signs the $14.8 million franchise tender before Week One but the Giants place him on the Non-Football Injury list at the start of the regular season, he’ll miss at least six weeks — and the Giants can choose not to pay him. That’s why PFT reported on July 11 that Pierre-Paul would show up if the Giants would commit to paying him the full $14.8 million even if he’s on the NFI list.

Alternatively, I believe Pierre-Paul would welcome a decision by the Giants to rescind the franchise tender. That would make him a free agent, and it would allow him to sign a multi-year deal with any team.

At times, it seems like JPP actually hopes to provoke the Giants to rescind the tender. It remains unlikely that they will, but all it takes is that one moment in which Reese or coach Tom Coughlin or ownership get sufficiently fed up to strip the tender and set Pierre-Paul free.

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John Fox “can’t predict” when Kevin White will practice

Kevin White AP

The Bears are five practices into training camp and they’ve yet to have their first-round pick on the field for any of them.

Wide receiver Kevin White landed on the physically unable to perform list to open up his first professional camp and there’s no timetable at this point for when his shin injury will be healed enough for him to begin working with the team. Coach John Fox said Monday that he’s looking at White’s absence as a “day-to-day” proposition, but after six weeks of dealing with the injury he “can’t predict” when White will be well enough to join his teammates.

“I think he’s making headway,” Fox said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “Like I said, he was on the shelf for six weeks. His conditioning level [and] soft tissue has built him back to have a chance to come back and play.”

Last year, Odell Beckham missed the entire preseason for the Giants while dealing with a hamsting injury and then missed four regular season games before having a rookie year for the ages. Repeating Beckham’s exploits is too much to ask, but the Bears hope for impactful contributions to their offense after a shorter absence from their rookie wideout.

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