Sitting at home Friday, a congested and grumpy Bill Lazor was asked if NFL officials should start postponing this week’s games because of coronavirus outbreaks.
“I haven’t thought about it,” the Bears’ offensive coordinator said, “because I assume they won’t.”
Two hours later, they did, pushing three games back two days each. The Bears, though, remain slated to play the Vikings at 7:15 p.m. Monday at Soldier Field.
One day after putting six players on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list, the Bears added two more Friday: quarterback Andy Dalton and cornerback Duke Shelley.
Neither was expected to play Monday against Minnesota — Dalton has an injured left hand, and Shelley had returned to practice this week after hurting his hamstring last month. Dalton is vaccinated, but his proximity to starting quarterback Justin Fields and third-stringer Nick Foles is cause for concern nonetheless. The Bears can’t afford to put another quarterback on the reserve list without having to sign a passer.
After activating offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson — he had been out since Nov. 26 after contracting the virus — on Friday, the Bears have 13 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
It could have been worse — seven of the eight players who missed the walkthrough Thursday with non-coronavirus illnesses returned and participated in full: running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, tight ends Cole Kmet and Jesper Horsted, offensive linemen James Daniels and Teven Jenkins and wide receiver/returner Jakeem Grant.
Of the original eight, only defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga, who has a shoulder injury and an illness, remains out.
Kmet said he was feeling better after having cold symptoms earlier in the week. He has tested negative for the coronavirus each day since.
“I thought this offseason it’d be going away, with the vaccines and things like that,” Kmet said. “To find out that everyone’s kinda still getting sick and things like that obviously isn’t great. But, you know, it’s just the world we live in right now, and you kinda have to deal with it.”
The Bears’ three coordinators remained out after testing positive earlier this week. In interviews conducted over Zoom, all three sounded stir-crazy.
“I’ve watched a lot of film, you know?” special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “And you stare out the window a lot. It’s frustrating.”
Tabor tested positive Monday morning with symptoms that reminded him of a cold. On Friday, he said he was “feeling great.” By mid-morning, Tabor already had checked the weather report and determined that the warmest part of the day would be around 2 p.m.
“So I’ll probably slide out and go for a walk,” he said. “That’s gonna be the big activity today.”
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai, who also tested positive Monday and said he felt fine, scheduled a walk of his own.
“It’s cold, though,” he said. “So that doesn’t help much.”
If Desai can’t coach Monday, he figures to be replaced by senior defensive assistant Mike Pettine, the former Packers coordinator and head coach. Coach Matt Nagy likely would call offensive plays for Lazor, with assistant special-teams coach Brian Ginn taking Tabor’s place.
The first few days of quarantine weren’t that different from Desai’s typical Monday and Tuesday, when he watches game film and develops his game plan.
“It’s just the practice part that you miss,” Desai said.
For a second consecutive day, the Bears held a walkthrough — and not a padded practice — to account for their diminished roster. They’ll do the same Saturday.
The Bears are holding out hope that at least some of their vaccinated players can return by Monday. According to the NFL’s new guidelines released earlier this week, all vaccinated players and coaches who have been asymptomatic for at least 24 hours can end their quarantine if they meet one of three new testing requirements. The new rules allow players to return to the active roster faster.
The NFL remained in the midst of a coronavirus crisis. On Friday, teams put 32 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, with all but one testing positive.
An outbreak in Cleveland forced the NFL to move the Browns’ game Saturday against the Raiders to 4 p.m. Monday — just ahead of the Vikings-Bears game at Soldier Field. Coronavirus concerns with Washington and the Rams prompted their games against the Eagles and Seahawks, respectively, to be moved from Sunday to Tuesday.
In a letter to owners Friday, commissioner Roger Goodell called the Omicron variant the “kind of change that warrants a flexible response” from the NFL and insisted the league will try to play a full 17-game schedule.
Under the NFL’s intensive protocol, the Bears will keep testing every day — and take stock again Saturday.
“You don’t want to get sick because obviously then you can’t play,” Kmet said. “That’s just the main concern.”