By Robert Zeglinski
While having some of the heaviest and most awkward builds in nature, bears of any species are justifiably seen as some of the most terrifying animals in existence. The average bear can run anywhere from 25-28 miles per hour, and sustain a sprint for over a few minutes. When factoring in weight ranging from 600 to 1,000 pounds, almost half a ton, an underestimation of a bear is often the last mistake most lesser prey make. They’re routinely the fiercest predators in most ecosystems they find themselves in. And when they’re motivated for any reason, the utter ferocity, power, and speed they have make bears an untapped force to be reckoned with.
In this food chain equation, it’s the speed that separates bears from the rest of the clawed titans and alphas crossing their path. Never mind the intimidation of their bellowing roar. Forget the veracity of any strikes from their paws. Bears get by on quickness first. If they were as sizable as they are normally, but slowly lumbered around, their ruthless survivalist reputation would not be earned. Instead, set one off and find yourself in its throes, and you’ll be lucky to get away.
For bears, speed is the differentiator between a powerful, oft-mysterious predator, and an afterthought.
The same can be said for the football version of Bears, and one of their new draft additions in speedster Kerrith Whyte Jr.
Over the course of a three-year career with Florida Atlantic, the 22-year-old Whyte Jr. was one of college football’s most explosive and most overlooked weapons. A 4.36 40-yard dash run at his pro day–which would’ve been second-fastest among all Combine participants–is an example of what happens when Whyte Jr. gets a full head of steam in the open field. It’s also, fittingly, an actual accurate portrayal of what happens when he gets the ball in his hands: complete chaos for the defense always following him in his wake.
Now that he plays for the Bears, you can fatefully compare Whyte Jr. to his bears friends as he can similarly go from 0-100 in a split second and go for the kill, a touchdown that is, without warning. The only major difference between the two being sheer unattainable size. In fact, the 5-foot-10, 200 pound sharply-dressed Whyte Jr. could be characterized as the farthest thing from an actual bear, unlike some of his larger defensive teammates. But leave him as an oversight at your own risk. Should he get the chance to showcase his special gifts in the NFL, this is a threatening blazer that’ll get a familiar jump on the most unfortunate of special teams coordinators.
Where Whyte Jr. made his hay especially is as an amateur is in the return game. In 2017, he became the first FAU player to ever score a kick return touchdown in program history. The rest of his college resume with a non-football powerhouse predictably blossomed from there.
On a total of 81 kick returns in three years, Whyte Jr. accumulated well over 2,000 return yards: an average of 26.1 yards per attempt. That figure would’ve placed him near the tops among his peers every year from 2016-2018 as the only major FCS player to feature in the top 25 of return yardage each of the last three seasons. No matter the sample size, he made the most of his opportunities. He was the epitome of a bang-for-your-buck player on a play slowly being phased out of all levels of football, which speaks far more to his on-field value.
But as long as the return game (tentatively) remains a factor in pro football, Whyte Jr. should have a place with the Bears. As long he retains his trademark speed, he fits Chicago’s mission of speed to a tee, as has been foreshadowed throughout this off-season. Try as one might, you can’t teach speed.
“I think we’re an exciting offense to watch and I think we’ve got a lot of pieces that can do a lot of different things and that’s only going to grow in Year 2,” Pace said before the festivities of the 2019 Combine kicked off. “Now from a personnel standpoint, do we need to add to that? Yes. Do we want to get faster and more explosive? Yes. And that’s our challenge.”
Following Pace’s on-the-nose challenge, the Bears would go on to add Cordarrelle Patterson, perhaps football’s premier active returner. It’s one thing to have balance and offensive diversity, like the Bears already possess. It’s an entirely different subject to legitimately strike fear into restless workaholic defensive coordinators and quality control coaches, to make them lose more sleep than they already do. Offensive balance and diversity doesn’t inspire any kind of fear. To a degree, both facets can be limited with a quality and disciplined game-plan. But throw in any mix of players who take game-plans and put them in a paper shredder off of the simplest of mistakes, and trouble always follows.
On a contending team, you can never have too many of these types of home-run hitters, these fifth and sixth magical unspoken elements. As ridiculous as they are, Patterson and the electric Tarik Cohen aren’t enough or nearly satisfactory for the Bears. A contending team has multiple players who can flip the dynamic of a game on its head in an instant and leave heads spinning.
Enter the seventh-round pick in Whyte Jr. and his eventual ideal development into a special teams alpha. While Patterson holds the mantle of Bears’ lead dog returner for now, he’s only officially guaranteed one season on his two-year, $10 million contract. If Whyte Jr. can open enough meaningful eyes between now and whenever the Bears’ 2019 season ends, it isn’t a stretch to say he can be the heir apparent to the more seasoned Patterson. Whyte Jr. has experience making the most of limited opportunities by now. He reflected so after the draft.
“Opportunities, they present themselves,” Whyte said in April. “I’m thankful to say I took advantage of a lot of them.”
If all goes well, like with most kick returners, you won’t see Whyte Jr.’s impact coming until he’s waving past helpless special teamers en route to the end zone. He’ll take advantage of his chances as he always has. He’ll make a rarely viable play exciting again.
If the speedy Whyte Jr’s playing career continues to play out like it has to this stage, he’ll earn himself a cold-blooded reputation at the top of the food chain in the NFL’s kingdom. -R.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.