Wide receiver Kevin White broke his left shoulder blade, coach John Fox revealed Monday, sending him back to injured reserve, the place he has known best since the Bears drafted him seventh overall in 2015.
Surgery is a possibility, Fox said. The fateful play occurred in the fourth quarter Sunday, when Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley tackled White, who left Soldier Field in a sling.
The trip to IR ensures White won’t return soon this season, if at all. Even if White recuperates, the Bears only can activate two players off IR — and only after eight weeks spent on the shelf.
‘‘My heart goes out to him,’’ Fox said. ‘‘He was very disappointed and discouraged in the locker room after the game — for obvious reasons. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him. He was pretty upset about it Sunday night, and they’re doing evaluations right now.’’
Return or not, the Bears can’t trust White to stay healthy again. They’ve played 33 regular-season games since drafting White. He has finished three.
‘‘I ask why me, but I know God has a plan much bigger than what I want,’’ White tweeted. ‘‘I’m thankful for everyone that’s supporting me.’’
The shoulder injury cements what already appeared to be an easy decision for the Bears, who likely will decide in the offseason to decline White’s fifth-year option for 2019.
White, who has 21 career receptions for 193 yards, likely would’ve needed Pro Bowl-caliber numbers this season to be worth the option price. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, the No. 7 pick a year before White, is scheduled to make more than $13 million in his fifth season — though that’s likely a starting point for an extension.
If White can’t return this season — or even if he can — the Bears must plan for life without him. That leaves White’s presence on the team for 2018 up for debate. The Bears might take the same wait-and-see approach they did with another first-round pick, cornerback Kyle Fuller, the 14th overall pick in 2014, who had to play well in camp to make the team this year. He’ll be a free agent after the season because the Bears declined his fifth-year option.
In the interim, the Bears will scramble to find bodies to bolster a wide-receiver corps weakened by the loss of another starter, Cam Meredith, to a torn left anterior cruciate ligament late last month.
For the second consecutive day, Fox listed Markus Wheaton, whom the Bears guaranteed $6 million but is recovering from pinkie surgery, and waiver claim Tre McBride, who was a healthy scratch against the Falcons, as options.
Wheaton wore a ‘‘major club’’ to protect his left hand while
being limited in practice last week, Fox said. He could return Sunday or the next week.
‘‘Then we’ll have some options, looking around the league, as well,’’ Fox said.
Teaching the playbook to a new receiver — either signed or acquired via trade — is a challenge, Fox said. McBride, whom the Bears claimed away from the Titans on cut day, is living that.
‘‘That’s all part of when injuries happen in the league, is how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up,’’ Fox said. ‘‘We dealt with that more than our share last year and it’s not unusual, but we’ll adjust.’’
Undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, a training-camp sensation now playing on the practice squad, also could be an option, Fox said. The Bears figure to lean on their tight ends and running backs, who had more catches than their receivers did against the Falcons.
‘‘Our role will increase,’’ tight end Dion Sims said, ‘‘and we’ll have to step up.’’
Until then, all the Bears can do is shake their heads. Defensive end Akiem Hicks was on the sideline when White came off in pain.
‘‘I’m going to be completely honest: That hurt me to see that,’’ Hicks said.
Hicks admitted he never has seen anyone basically miss three consecutive seasons, if, indeed, that’s White’s case.
‘‘Everybody gets hit — it’s a tough, physical game,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘He hasn’t been able to catch a break.’’
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