The Bears’ caution is inflating their injury list. But even considering their careful approach, the list was so long Sunday you can’t help but wonder if it’s getting in the way of progress.
With 19 players out with injuries, two more limited, two resting and one out for personal reasons, the Bears were without 24 players on their 90-man roster (26.7 percent) Sunday at Halas Hall. The season opener is 20 days away.
Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, the Bears’ first-round draft pick, was added to the list Sunday when he sat out with a “slight hamstring” injury. Minor or not — Alshon Jeffery left with a “mild” hamstring on Aug. 4, returned a week later and has been fine since — a Floyd absence is always notable. It’s the third time he’s missed practice so far. He missed all or part of four practices with an illness and missed part of one practice with a shoulder injury.
After a slow start, Floyd has made noticeable progress when healthy. He and rookie Jonathan Bullard combined for a sack of Patriots third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the Bears’ 23-22 loss in their second preseason game Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
“Just a precaution,” coach John Fox said of Floyd not participating Sunday.
The Bears were without six players expected to start this season: guard Kyle Long (shoulder), outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee, PUP), inside linebacker Danny Travathan (hamstring), cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee), running back (Jeremy Langford (foot) and center Hroniss Grasu (out for the season with a torn ACL). Plus Floyd, nickel back Bryce Callahan (hamstring) and wide receiver Marquess Wilson (broken foot, PUP).
Cornerback Tracy Porter, who was rested in the preseason opener against the Broncos, was rested again Sunday. Starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman also was given a veteran’s day off Sunday. Starting tight end Zach Miller (concussion) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (concussion) were limited. Bullard was excused for personal reasons.
Also out were tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), safety Deon Bush (undisclosed) cornerbacks Jacoby Glenn (concussion) and De’Vante Bausby (undisclosed), defensive end Cornelius Washington (knee/ankle), linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (hamstring), tight end Ben Braunecker (ankle), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (ankle) and Derek Keaton (leg) and running back Senorise Perry (hamstring).
2. In theory, the injuries give others an opportunity to step up. The Bears’ roster doesn’t appear to be deep enough to produce true “next-man-up” starters. But with so many rookies in camp, there are opportunities galore for that to ensue.
With cornerbacks Fuller, Callahan and Glenn out and Porter getting the day off, the Bears’ cornerbacks were rookies Deiondre Hall and Kevin Peterson.
Hall, a fourth-round draft pick who already has made an impact in the preseason, is a potential starter. But Peterson, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State, has been buried on the depth chart most of training camp. He didn’t look out of place for the most part Sunday — neatly breaking up a Jay Cutler pass for Alshon Jeffery and covering Kevin White tightly enough on another play to influence a drop by White.
He figures to get a good look in the Bears’ preseason game against the Chiefs on Saturday at Soldier Field.
“He hasn’t had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at that position,” Fox said. “So this will be a big opportunity for him [against the Chiefs], as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”
3. The opportunity for the 6-2, 201-pound Hall in the final two preseason games is even greater — he has a chance to prove he might be the best alternative if Fuller is not available for Week 1.
It’s likely too much too soon for the Northern Iowa product, but he fits the mold of a play-making cornerback in Vic Fangio’s defense more than Fuller. It’s up to him to prove that the inevitable growing pains are worth it.
“He’s pretty active in practice and in the game he played pretty well,” Jeffery said of Hall. “I don’t believe he gave up any catches. He got a couple of pass break-ups [against the Broncos]. He’s long and physical.”
4. Fox didn’t exactly give Hall his seal of approval, but has been intrigued by the rookie’s development.
“He’s improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies, you don’t really know. You get them out there [and] they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”
5. McPhee’s extended recovery from offseason knee surgery remains the Bears’ most problematic injury. McPhee is unlikely to play in the preseason and the Bears still contend he has a chance to play in the season opener against the Texans on Sept. 11. It’s 50-50 he will do that, and the bigger challenge will be staying healthy once he’s back. No odds available on that.
“The day he comes back, it’s going to be like I’m opening up a Christmas present, because I know what he brings to the table,” Porter said. “The guys that we have on the field, they’re doing a tremendous job. And to plug in a piece like McPhee is going to be big for us. I can’t wait for him to come back.”
6. The most underrated injury of all might be Trevathan — a huge part of expected leap the Bears’ defense is hoping to take this season. He did not play against the Patriots and has missed both practices since that game because of a hamstring injury. The Bears can cover McPhee’s absence better than they can Trevathan’s.
7. Preseason results often are poor indicators, but there is little doubt the Bears benefitted last week from practicing agains the Patriots. From the opening drill of the first practice they seemed to rise to the occasion of facing a team that plays at a different level of intensity than most. The Patriots are one of a few teams — like the Seahawks under Pete Carroll and the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh (and Vic Fangio) that play at that level.
The conditioning is invaluable. The Bears were 0-3 after a 26-0 loss to the Seahawks last year and responded by beating the Raiders at home and Chiefs on the road. In 2010, after getting spanked by the Patriots 35-7 at home in the snow, the Bears responded with two of their best offensive efforts of the Jay Cutler era in victories over the Vikings (40-14) and Jets (38-34). (The Jets game marks the only time in the Cutler era the Bears have allowed more than 31 points in a game and still won.)
8. There’s a small price to pay for that kind of conditioning. Football teams often thrive on routine, but with the shortened stay at Olivet Nazarene, the trip to Foxborough and the event at Warren High School, the Bears have played at six different venues the last 10 times they’ve taken the field. The Bears haven’t spent more than three days in the same place since opening training camp with nine consecutive days at Olivet Nazarene.
9. The frustration and disappointment has to be mounting for Eddie Royal, who still is recovering from a concussion he suffered on Aug. 1. Royal fielded some punts Sunday but still is limited. When he was healthy at the start of camp, Royal looked like he had a lot left in the tank. But he’s looking more like the odd-man out in a crowded wide-receiver field with each day he can’t fully participate in practice. The cap hit ($4.5 million) would not be insignificant. But it likely would not be prohibitive with the ample room the Bears have under the cap.
Marc Mariani, who made several big catches in the second half of last season, continues to build a solid rapport with Jay Cutler and looks like a keeper. And while seventh-round pick Daniel Braverman hasn’t done much in two preseason games, he’s been intriguing enough in practice and has created enough buzz that getting him on the practice squad might be risky.
10. Player to watch — It remains to be seen how much of a shot second-year center Cornelius Edison will get, but with Long out, Ted Larsen has played right guard with Edison at center. Fox sounded impressed.
“He’s athletic,” he said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has, but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better he’ll be]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night [against the Patriots] and I thought he performed pretty well.”