Quarterback Nick Foles might not have known the names of all his eight healthy offensive linemen — four have never played an NFL snap, one has never started a game and another has started exactly one — but he wanted them to feel at ease during practice Wednesday.
“It was just stepping in the huddle and making sure that guys are relaxed and loose,” Foles said, “because I know it’s not an easy situation. All of a sudden, you’re stepping in and you’re playing. I get it, and maybe you’re in a different role.
“Been there, done that.”
Foles, the ultimate backup-done-good, knows the nerves that come with players receiving what they perceive to be their big chance.
On Sunday, though, he might have to be the nervous one. Against the Saints, Foles was sacked five times — only one, coach Matt Nagy claimed, could have been avoided by throwing the ball away.
The week before, Foles was sacked four times, prompting Nagy to bemoan how difficult it is to play the position with bodies strewn around the pocket.
“Quarterback[ing] is hard,” he said, “when you can’t step into your throws.”
The Bears have spent the last six weeks trying to manufacture chemistry between Nagy, the play-caller, and Foles, his longtime friend but first-time game-planning partner. They’ve yet to find significant traction.
This week, however, presents a new, much more high-stakes challenge: finding a way to move the ball with the Bears’ offensive line ravaged by injuries to three Week 1 starters and facing a weeklong quarantine for a fourth, right guard Germain Ifedi, for having close contact with offensive tackle Jason Spriggs.
On Wednesday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel called Foles “somebody that’s been able to get the ball out of his hands quickly.” He’ll absolutely have to Sunday. With backup Mitch Trubisky likely out with an injured right shoulder, the Bears can’t afford for Foles to get hurt because of an offensive-line mistake.
The Bears hold meetings every morning between quarterbacks and centers to try to avoid exactly that. They watch film of the upcoming opponent’s defensive fronts. Later in the morning, they gather for a blitz meeting and analyze how to stop extra rushers.
“So that’s a great time with anyone who’s going to play center,” Foles said, “to go through it, talk through the calls with what we’re thinking.”
Two weeks ago, Cody Whitehair was the lead center in those meetings. Last week, it was Sam Mustipher. Both sat out practice Wednesday, leaving Alex Bars and newcomer Aaron Neary as the Bears’ remaining healthy options.
“We’re not going to be perfect,” Foles said. “But as long as we know if we make a call — where our limitation could be if they bring a blitz — we’re going to be fine.
“And if there are times where I need to get the ball out, I can get it out. Or if I can drop back and throw a deep ball, I’ll throw it deep.”
Nagy figures to plan screen passes, quick slants and other short drops to protect Foles. He’ll have to scheme a way to use additional pass-blockers at tight end or running back, a wrinkle he has avoided during his Bears tenure.
An offense with little identity has four days to develop a new one.
“We’ve talked about it as a staff; we’ve talked about it with Nick,” Nagy said. “It is our job, and the job now — all of us have to step up and be able to adapt. I mean, that’s kind of been our word this whole time. ‘Adjust’ and ‘adapt’ and ‘expect the unexpected.’
“And every day, it’s always something new.”