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Bears’ pass rush depleted with Akiem Hicks hurt, Robert Quinn ramping up

As Quinn continues to work “on his own program” to get ready for the season, the Bears sidelined Hicks with an injury Friday.

Akiem Hicks has been an overwhelming pass rusher and run stopper for the Bears since 2016.
Akiem Hicks has been an overwhelming pass rusher and run stopper for the Bears since 2016.
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini

Less than a week into practice, the Bears are down a handful of players — including star defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.

Hicks was out Friday after suffering what coach Matt Nagy described as “a little bit” of a quadriceps injury the day before. While he is expected back on the field soon, the Bears learned last season that any Hicks injury is worth monitoring.

Without him — he missed one game with a knee injury and 10 with a dislocated elbow — the Bears’ pass rush waned. Because of Hicks’ importance as well as his mileage going into his ninth season, Nagy likely will use extreme caution in bringing him back regardless of the team having only 10 practices left.

“We don’t want to make anything worse than what it is,” Nagy said.

Hicks has 24 sacks, 173 tackles and five forced fumbles since joining the Bears in 2016.

They’re banking on him and outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn to form an elite pass rush. It could be the best in the NFL if all three are operating at full capacity, but the Bears have yet to get Quinn into 11-on-11 work. He was out the first four practices and is still “on his own program” to get into game shape, position coach Ted Monachino said this week.

Mack is full-go physically, but Nagy said the team is limiting his snaps to preserve him for the season. He has played at least 86% of his teams’ defensive snaps, other than when he was injured in 2018, in his six seasons.

Quarterback battle ongoing

The quarterback dilemma remains unsolved with only two weeks before the Bears begin Week 1 preparations to face the Lions. Neither Nick Foles nor Mitch Trubisky has been demonstrably better than the other.

The upside for the Bears, however, is that both got sharper throughout the first four practices — especially Friday.

“I thought both quarterbacks, their decision-making, they were making quicker decisions,” Nagy said. “Today, it felt like a pretty good day.”

The Bears are alternating which quarterback takes reps first — third-stringer Tyler Bray picks up some snaps, too — and meticulously planning practice to make sure Foles and Trubisky get an equal shot at winning the job.

Other injuries pile up

The Bears put their second player on injured reserve in the opening week of practice. Tight end Darion Clark, a former basketball player who was vying to make the roster as a backup, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury Thursday.

The Bears already had lost cornerback Artie Burns to a torn ACL and had nose tackle Eddie Goldman and special-teamer Jordan Lucas opt out for the season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bears probably will keep five tight ends. The top three spots belong to Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris. Clark’s exit leaves J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted and Eric Saubert battling for the last two spots.

The Bears also were without backup linebacker Josh Woods (groin), rookie offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons and wide receivers Ahmad Wagner and Trevor Davis.

With the roster limited to 80 instead of the usual 90, Nagy said the injuries already are cutting into how much work the team can do without overly taxing its starters.