Bears will count on Royal even more with White out

Wide receiver Eddie Royal was always going to play an integral role in the Bears' offense this year.

His three-year, $15 million contract with $10 million guaranteed said so.

But now, with first-round draft pick Kevin White unlikely to contribute much this year on a surgical left leg, Royal's importance is sure to increase, whether he admits it or not.

“I don't know how much it changes anything with the guys in the (wide receivers) room because we've all been busting our butts, working as hard as we can, preparing like we're the starters,” said the eighth-year veteran.

“That's the attitude of everybody, even the undrafted free agents. Whoever gets the call to go out there and play, they're going to give it their all.”

Even before the decision for White to have surgery to stabilize the stress fractures in his shin, there was plenty of slack to be picked up on a Bears offense that relieved itself of wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the off-season.

Their first move was to sign Royal, an unrestricted free agent.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder brings a high level of versatility. He's an effective slot receiver in addition to working outside, closer to the sidelines.

His acumen at working the middle of the field is what made him a Bears target in the off-season.

“Specifically, from the slot position, he's a really good route runner,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He's a savvy route runner. He knows how to set guys up.

“Some guys just have a knack for that. He's real subtle with his change of direction. His ability to separate in man coverage and get open underneath, are the things that stand out.”

Those were skills that Royal says he honed recently, while playing the previous three years with the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers.

“It's learning how to run routes inside,” the Virginia Tech product said. “It's a lot of body language, it's a lot of tempo, speeding up and slowing down and quick cuts and just learning how to do that — keeping the DB off balance.

“There were a lot of little things I thought I knew, but I didn't realize I didn't (know them) until I actually got in there and did it. So just getting that experience has been good.”

After Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery and Royal, most of the Bears' top backups, starting with 6-4, 199-pound Marquess Wilson, seem better suited to play outside.

Knowing Royal can contribute from anywhere in the offense gives the Bears options.

“When we throw Eddie in the mix, you've got a real viable guy that you can move around a lot,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He's got experience in the slot. He's got experience outside.”

With Cutler as his quarterback in Denver, Royal produced a rookie season in 2008 that remains, statistically, the best of his career.

Playing outside, Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards (10.8-yard average) in Cutler's final season with the Broncos.

Last year, working mostly in the slot, Royal posted his second-most-productive season, catching 62 passes for 778 yards (12.5-yard average) and 7 touchdowns, giving him 15 scores over the last two seasons.

Royal takes a great deal of pride in the knowledge that he can contribute in a variety of ways and that he has become a well-rounded receiver.

“I think every receiver should take a lot of pride in being able to do everything,” he said. “You don't want to be a one-trick pony. I've worked on that my whole career.

“The slot was an adjustment. I'd always been outside my whole life, so (moving back out there) is not really that much of an adjustment for me.

“We'll see how it goes. We've got Marquess Wilson, and he's been playing great all camp so far, so we'll see what happens.”

Whether it's inside or outside, the Bears are counting more than ever on Royal making things happen this year.

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