MOBILE, Ala. — Standing in the end zone Wednesday morning during 9-on-7 drills for the National team’s Senior Bowl practice were Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.
That didn’t offer them a view of one-on-one drills for wide receivers and cornerbacks at the other end of the field at Hancock Whitney Stadium. But let’s be honest: The Bears don’t have a greater need than on the defensive line.
They were 31st in the NFL against the run in 2022 and last in the league in sacks with 20 — 1½ more than Robert Quinn had the season before. The Bears have to be significantly better up front to battle their way out of the NFC North basement.
There probably isn’t a player worthy of the No. 1 pick here, but a potential trade down — or multiple maneuvers for more picks — could open a world of draft possibilities for the Bears, who need to be prepared for everything.
Georgia Tech defensive end Keion White has to be of interest. He’s raw at the position — a converted tight end — and at first glance he might be a little bigger than you’d think to play in Eberflus’ scheme at 6-foot-4¾, 280 pounds. But White moves well, and while Tony Dungy preferred lighter and quicker ends in his 4-3 Cover-2 scheme, Eberflus was schooled more by Rod Marinelli and Lovie Smith, and they had no qualms using heavier players at the position, especially on the left side.
White had no problem using his hands to shed blockers in the drill and looks rather instinctual, which is a plus considering his background. Eberflus has said repeatedly that he covets long, athletic players. White fits the bill and could be only beginning to blossom. He was a lightly recruited tight end out of Garner, N.C., who redshirted for Old Dominion in 2017 before starting eight games at tight end in 2018, catching 11 passes for 124 yards.
During spring ball in 2019, the Monarchs converted him to defensive end. He was about 265 pounds and an instant hit. He had eight tackles and two stops for loss in his second game against Virginia Tech and finished the season with 62 tackles, including 19 for a loss, and 3½ sacks while trying to figure out defense.
ODU was one of the few schools that did not compete in 2020 because of COVID-19, and White transferred to Georgia Tech. An ankle injury limited him to four games in 2021, but he had 7½ sacks and 14 tackles for a loss last fall, and NFL teams are looking at him wondering about the possibilities. He had three sacks in the Yellow Jackets’ upset of North Carolina in November.
White has good mobility, change of direction, a lot of power and is only scratching the surface. During a full team period at the end of practice, White crashed around the left edge on one snap as the left end. He kicked inside on the next snap and won with a spin move.
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There is some projection involved but White is oozing with talent, and whatever team drafts him is going to feel like the defensive line coach can turn him into an impact player. White might be a tad light to project as a three technique, but teams are asking him about that possibility.
“I am still kind of fresh as a tackle but I like being uncomfortable,” White said. “I like trying new things. The fact that they put me there, they think I can do it.”
Eberflus has said he generally prefers players at that position to be at least 290 to 300 pounds, but White could profile as a left end in the base defense and slide inside in sub packages, which the Bears were in roughly 70% of the time last season.
There is a lot of buzz about White, who sort of came out of nowhere after the ankle injury sidelined him in 2021 and he didn’t have a chance to get on the field in 2020. He has been one of the most impressive players here through two days of practice.
“I try not to pay too much attention to it,” he said. “At the end of the day, those guys really don’t know too much about the process. The guys making the decisions are the people that are out there on the field.”
A consistent theme White has been picking up in interviews with teams is that they want to assess his ability to grow. Being that he’s still relatively new on defense, he has a lot of ground to cover — and teams naturally will want to learn about his ankle that required surgery with 14 screws and a plate. That information will be determined at the scouting combine, which begins Feb. 28.
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“They know you’re not going to know everything and you’re not going to be technically sound or have their scheme down,” White said. “But they want to understand your willingness to get better and learn and how you process information.
“All of them have bounced the idea off me, for sure, of playing inside. They like the idea of me being able to move around. I just want to show I have the ability to continue to get better. That’s my thing. I’m still pretty raw.”