LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It would seem Kevin White's time to learn at his own pace has passed.
White, the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, must assume the role as top wide receiver after the Chicago Bears lost Cameron Meredith to a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday's 19-7 preseason win over the Tennessee Titans.
"I feel like I've got to step it up a little more," White said. "Everybody's got to take their game to another level."
Meredith became a key contributor when Alshon Jeffery was out due to suspensions and injuries last year before leaving in free agency for Philadelphia. Meredith led the Bears last season with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
It was expected that White would be the top receiving threat role by now, but leg fractures the last two seasons limited him to four games played. He had moments in training camp and preseason games, but no real break-through game.
"I've said all along he needs to continue to improve," coach John Fox said. "We saw improvement last week in Tennessee.
"I've seen that improvement because he's been able to stay healthy and stack those practices and now games together."
The Bears are considering former Giant Victor Cruz, former Titan Kendall Wright and former Steeler Markus Wheaton for the vacant starting spot, but it's apparent to everyone White has to be the one to take up the attention of defenses.
"Obviously he's been up and down with injuries, so this is the year where he has to take over and be the guy that they drafted him to be," Cruz said. "I think he's ready for that and I think he's conscious of the pressure that's on him and he's relishing it."
White formerly had little exposure to going against NFL defenses or operating in an offense's route tree. However, in two seasons of watching he said he's become familiar with the task even while not playing.
"I'm just getting more comfortable with everything," White said. "I think that's the main thing. The playbook's fine. Know it in and out."
White discounted any problem handling the pressure of being a No. 1 receiver.
"I feel like there's always been pressure, ever since I got drafted," White said. "That's just a normal thing. You just block the outside noise and try to focus and do what I can do at a high level."
There could be pressure on the veteran free agent receivers as well, particularly Cruz. He hasn't been playing with the backup offense and has been behind Wright even though his name is still second team on the depth chart.
Cruz has only four preseason catches and acknowledged no roster spot has been won.
"I always feel that way, whether I was a starter or I was coming off a Super Bowl, my mindset is always like I'm fighting for a job," Cruz said. "So I never get complacent, I never get kind of easy going in my position.
"I always want to have that chip on my shoulder like I'm fighting for a roster spot."
Wright has six catches in preseason and has been more used in training camp scrimmages, as well.
"I think he's been excellently received," Fox said. "He's got a little fire about him, competitive. That's the impression I have. I think he's been a good addition."
Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy are two more receivers who have been highly valued by the Bears because they play key special teams roles, while Wright, Cruz and Wheaton have no special teams value.
So the roster cuts at this position could be tough ones to make.
Wheaton and Cruz have had past injury issues to consider, and Wheaton is currently trying to come back from a broken finger. He hasn't played all preseason after suffering an appendectomy. He's said to be in shape to play once the finger heals.
"As far as Markus goes that will be the quicker we can get him back the better," Fox said. "It's a broken, surgically repaired pinky and when he's cleared he'll be out there."
Wheaton would play a deep threat role lacking in some of the other receivers.
Regardless, it's White who has to prove he can run deep for passes as well as underneath.
"I like to try to broaden my game in all aspects," White said. "If the ball's coming my way I try to make a play happen."