Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman might feel different without teammate Danny Trevathan next to him Sunday against the Cowboys. But not lonely.
“I’m familiar with anybody they put beside me,” Freeman said Wednesday after practice at Halas Hall. “We’ve been working with each other since training camp, preseason, until now. Guys are well-prepared. I have the utmost trust in the guys, whoever they put in. I’ve seen ‘em. I’ve been with ‘em. It should be no problem.”
An improving Bears defense that looks like it will have to carry more than its share of the load — but still is trying to develop a bite — will have an additional degree-of-difficulty against the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be without two of his best players — Trevathan and nose tackle Eddie Goldman — and could be without five starters in all.
Trevathan is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Goldman is out with a high ankle sprain.
Safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan are in concussion protocol and also did not practice Wednesday. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who has yet to play while still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery in August, was limited in practice.
Also, outside linebacker Lamarr Houston (torn ACL) is out for the season. Safety Chris Prosinski (calf), who replaced Amos against the Eagles, did not practice. Cornerbacks Tracy Porter (knee) and Sherrick McManis (wrist) were limited.
The Bears’ defense showed promise against the Eagles — holding the Eagles to nine points and 161 yards on 41 plays (3.9 per play) through seven possessions into the third quarter. But injuries and offensive giveaways proved too much of a burden, and the Eagles scored three touchdowns in a 5:17 span of the second half to pull away.
Now they’ve got some big holes to fill.
“Anytime you have front-line players get hurt, obviously it’s an issue. They’re front-line players for a reason,” coach John Fox said. “But if you look around the league, even going into Week 3, there’s plenty of significant injuries to some star-caliber players.
“But you keep 53 men on the roster, you get 46 on game day and it’s next man up. You don’t have any choice. Nobody comes to rescue you. They’re not going to cancel the game. I don’t get much into it.”
The next-man-up philosophy often becomes the ultimate test of a football team. It is celebrated on good teams, but exposes the holes in developing or bad ones. Therein lies the challenge for Fangio and the Bears defense against the Cowboys. The Bears have yet to establish playmakers, let alone depth. Now, as Fox says, they have no choice.
“It’s obviously a challenge,” Fangio said. “But that’s why you have five d-linemen, four [inside linebackers] and four safeties. If one can’t go the other guy’s got to go in there.”
Who can Fangio turn to? Will Sutton, a proven rotation regular who started seven games last season, figures to start for Goldman at nose tackle. Jonathan Anderson, who started three games last season and had 13 tackles in a victory over the Chargers, replaced Trevathan against the Eagles. Christian Jones, who started 13 games at inside linebacker last season, and rookie Nick Kwiatkoski also are options.
In the secondary, it could get kind of dicey if Amos and Callahan can’t play. Prosinski replaced Amos at safety, but if he can’t go the next options are rookies DeAndre Houston-Carson and Deon Bush. McManis replaced Callahan at nickel, but undrafted rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc might be a better option. And the Bears have safety Demontre Hurst, a back-up nickel last year who started against the Buccaneers, on the practice squad.
It’s been that kind of season already for the Bears. Before we know how good they are, we have to find out how deep they are.
“Whether we’re seen as [a team with depth] or not, I believe we have it,” Prosinski said. “It’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys to prove they belong out there. There’s no question in my mind we have the depth to take up right we were.”