Marcus Williams was sitting in Arizona watching the second half of Sunday night’s game when the phone rang. The Bears were looking for someone to help replace standout nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan, who had broken his left foot cutting on a screen pass in the second quarter.
Three days later, Callahan’s season ended as the Bears put him on injured reserve and replaced him with Williams. Callahan will have surgery on his broken left foot, coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday.
It was a decisive blow to a Bears defense that leads the NFL with 25 interceptions.
“He’s got great hands, he’s tough, he’s a good kid — I mean, he’s very valuable,” Nagy said. “That’s a big loss for us. But with that said, we’re going to have the complete mentality of, it’s the next man up, we’re rolling.
“Bryce is going to be a part of this thing with us as we go. But there’s no sulking or none of that, man, it’s somebody else’s opportunity and let’s go do this thing.”
That chance figures to go to special teams ace Sherrick McManis, who has one sack and one interception in 101 defensive snaps this season. He played only 49 snaps at cornerback the previous two years combined.
Williams, who has started 15 games in six seasons and was on the field in Week 4 when the Bears scored 48 points against his Buccaneers, will fill in behind McManis and help on special teams.
“I’ll probably do a little bit of nickel,” said Williams, a North Dakota State alum who also played for the Texans and Jets. “Wherever they need me to play, I’ll be out there.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could mix and match his defensive backs at times. Rookie Kevin Toliver, an outside corner, has played 119 snaps this year.
McManis, a Northwestern grad, said he’s ready for the opportunity.
“I just feel like, the more reps you get, regardless of who you are, the better it is for you,” he said.
Callahan had taken on extra importance in a league where playing nickel coverage — with five defensive backs — has become more common than a base look. He had two sacks and two interceptions in his contract season.
The Bears will feel Callahan’s absence if they face the Rams again in the playoffs. Sunday, the Rams went with three receivers on every snap except one.
The Bears hope McManis fits in nicely with a defense coming off its best game of the season.
“He’s been showing it all year long,” Nagy said. “You know . . . when he’s in there I loved how aggressive he was. . . . Every player on our defense right now has elevated their game. They’re playing together. They have the trust that if they’re aggressive, they go to make a play, someone’s got their back. And he’s shown that.”