When the Bears launched their practice week Thursday, their roster was so depleted by injuries and illness that it would’ve been barely playable against the Vikings.
By Saturday afternoon, the outlook was much brighter.
While anything can happen leading up to kickoff Monday night, the Bears finished their walkthrough with a reasonable resemblance to their usual starting lineup.
The best news: No new players tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I think we’re good for today,” coach Matt Nagy said. “We checked that box.”
The key phrase all week has been “for today.” The one certainty during the pandemic has been that tomorrow is loaded with uncertainty.
“It’s spooky around here right now,” outside linebacker Bruce Irvin said of the daily uneasiness about new positive tests popping up. “It’s just been a lot of changes, but it is what it is. We’re still playing Monday, 7:15 p.m.”
The Bears’ situation improved Saturday with defensive tackle Eddie Goldman being activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list. He could be joined by star Akiem Hicks, who appears close to returning from an ankle injury.
There were also eight players out due to non-coronavirus illness Thursday, but seven were back Friday. There were no setbacks among that group and apparently no additional spread of whatever they had.
If the Bears have Hicks, Goldman and Bilal Nichols up front, that’s a great start for dealing with Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who is third in the NFL at 97.8 rushing yards per game.
On that note, they’re also optimistic about inside linebacker Roquan Smith being able to play through a hamstring issue. Nagy listed him as questionable.
With Goldman’s return, the Bears have 12 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. That includes four starters: wide receiver Allen Robinson, safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Artie Burns and right tackle Larry Borom.
Backup quarterback Andy Dalton also tested positive, and the Bears signed former Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis to their practice squad as a contingency. They also signed outside linebacker Ledarius Mack — Khalil’s younger brother — from their practice squad.
Any players on the COVID list must test negative twice to play Monday. The same goes for all three coordinators. Sean Desai (defense), Bill Lazor (offense) and Chris Tabor (special teams) remained out Saturday, and the team announced replacements if they aren’t cleared by Monday.
Senior defensive analyst Mike Pettine, who has 10 seasons of experience as an NFL defensive coordinator or head coach, would fill in for Desai. Assistant special-teams coach Brian Ginn would take Tabor’s spot. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo would be the offensive coordinator, but Nagy ducked the question of who would call plays.
“No matter who’s calling it, we feel like the plan’s going to be good,” Nagy said.
Even with good news on the coronavirus front and the potential of more players coming off the list, the Bears still had their share of commonplace injuries.
They ruled out starting left tackle Jason Peters, and Nagy said rookie Teven Jenkins likely will start in his place. Assuming Borom remains out, they expect to activate Germain Ifedi from injured reserve to start at right tackle.
They figure to go without wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (foot) and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (shoulder). Both are doubtful.
The Bears are hopeful they’ve survived the worst of it and minimized their outbreak as much as possible, giving some closure to the tension.
“There’s always something new, and that’s a part of life in the NFL,” Nagy said. “It can try to break you down, but you’ve gotta stay positive and expect the unexpected and you deal with it full steam ahead. You stay positive and you roll.”
He might want to come up with an alternate expression to “stay positive,” but the spirit of what he’s saying is true. And at the moment, the Bears are in relatively good position to compete Monday.