Whenever a Bears receiver leaves a game because of an injury, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor adjusts his call sheet accordingly. He finds the few plays designed specifically for that receiver and draws a line through each of them in pencil — not pen.
“Because sometimes they come back,” he said.
That would be a nice problem to have. Allen Robinson hasn’t practiced since hurting his hamstring while making a catch in the fourth quarter against the Steelers on Nov. 8. Marquise Goodwin left the Thanksgiving game against the Lions with injuries to his foot and ribs and hasn’t practiced since.
Throw in tight end Cole Kmet’s groin issue — the Bears’ second-leading receiver returned to practice Thursday but was limited — and the team is terribly thin on players who catch passes. That’s terrible for rookie quarterback Justin Fields’ development, whenever he returns to game action. The Bears need steady receivers to run a functioning offense.
After standout Darnell Mooney, the only healthy wide receivers on the 53-man roster are Damiere Byrd, who has nine catches for 74 yards this season, and returner Jakeem Grant, who has five for 24. Practice-squad receiver Isaiah Coulter, who played 14 snaps against the Lions, doesn’t have an NFL catch. Neither do fellow practice-squad receivers Rodney Adams, Nsimba Webster and Dazz Newsome.
That leaves Lazor with questions as he prepares his game plan for Sunday against the Cardinals.
“The question is, ‘OK, if he can’t go, does the guy who practiced it Wednesday take over and you still call [the play]?’ ” Lazor said. “Or, do you just bag it because it’s really just built for that one guy? There’s a little bit of both.”
The challenge during game week, Lazor said, is trying to juggle two plans: one if the player is deemed healthy enough to play and another if he’s not.
“Personnel is everything,” he said. “And the hard ones, which we’re dealing with, is some guys who are questionable. We really want them to play, so we put some plays in that are specific to him. You don’t want to overdo it if he doesn’t play, but if he might play, it’s, ‘Well, shoot, let’s get some of his best plays in.’ So that’s the hardest one, I think, as coaches, is when you don’t know yet if a guy’s going to play.”
Byrd, who had only seven catches for 32 yards before the Lions game, said waiting for his chance was difficult.
“Just preparing for it, never knowing when it was going to happen,” he said. “It could have happened eight weeks ago. It could have happened yesterday or last week. You just never know. But that’s what this league is about is preparing and knowing that it’s going to come eventually, and [to] be able to take control of it when it does.”
Other Bears receivers may learn that lesson soon.
“You wanted to come to the NFL for a reason,” Mooney said. “You didn’t want to sit back — you wanted to play. So, when the opportunity brings yourself to you, you have to be able to be ready.”