The Bears’ offensive line was already battered by injuries, and now the team is down two more linemen.
The Bears put offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, who would’ve started Sunday against the Titans, on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, as well as starting right guard Germain Ifedi. Spriggs tested positive and Ifedi was classified as a high-risk close contact, NFL Network reported.
While that virtually guarantees that Spriggs will be out Sunday, Ifedi could progress through the return-to-play protocol in time to return. If he quarantines for five days — Tuesday was Day 1 since it was an off day for the Bears because of the election — and tests negative, he can play.
Spriggs was filling in for starting right tackle Bobby Massie, who exited the Saints game Sunday with a knee injury. The Bears put him on injured reserve, and he can’t return until their Dec. 6 game against the Lions.
Losing Spriggs and Massie, as well as the possibility of playing without Ifedi, is a brutal hit for a Bears line that has struggled through injuries and poor play all season. They are already missing left guard James Daniels because of a season-ending pectoral injury, and center Cody Whitehair was out against the Saints with a calf injury.
The worst-case scenario with those players would’ve left the Bears with just five offensive linemen on the roster.
To offset the absences and potential absences, they promoted seventh-round pick Lachavious Simmons from the practice squad and signed journeyman center Aaron Neary to the practice squad. They also have undrafted rookies Dieter Eiselen and Badara Traore on the practice squad and can temporarily promote either of them for this game.
The crucial concern for the Bears is whether Spriggs’ positive test is an isolated case or the beginning of an outbreak. Players are tested daily, and he was their only positive test as of Tuesday evening.
The NFL has had to reschedule multiple games — this week’s opponent, the Titans, had the worst outbreak in the league in September with 23 players and staff members testing positive — and continues to tighten its coronavirus-related rules.
The league announced Tuesday it will expand bench areas to run between the 20-yard lines in order to encourage social distancing and require all players to wear a mask as they leave the field after the game.
Bears coach Matt Nagy has been hyper-vigilant about following health guidelines this season, and his team has had minimal issues relative to the rest of the NFL.
“Whatever the protocol was when we first got started, like if it was 6 feet to keep your distance, we were close to 20 feet,” Nagy said two weeks ago. “So now that they’re saying, ‘Hey let’s do this or let’s do that,’ we’ve already been doing it, which I think has helped us out.
“Our coaches and players and everybody in the building has stayed consistent with the rule. They always have their mask on, and even if we’re being annoying with it, just be annoying and wear your mask.”
The Bears put several players on the reserve/COVID-19 list throughout the preseason for testing positive or having close contact with someone who did, but haven’t had much trouble since. Their only positive test was Traore in mid-October, and he was cleared to return 12 days later.
They kept offensive line coach Juan Castillo away from the team the week leading up to the Panthers game — he did not coach in it — as a precaution because he had close contact with someone who tested positive, but tested negative and returned the following week.
Based on the testing routine Nagy has explained, Spriggs likely tested positive Monday and got the results that night or early Tuesday. The Bears are scheduled to return to practice Wednesday, but could opt for a virtual coaching day or take other measures to avoid players being in close contact with each other.