This should be an easy job for the Bears to fill.
All they need is a reliable outside linebacker to get a modest number of sacks while playing opposite Khalil Mack. With Mack regularly drawing multiple blockers, his partner should be able to feast.
But that second pass-rushing spot continues to be a frustration. After No. 9 overall pick Leonard Floyd fizzled, general manager Ryan Pace tried to correct his error by throwing $70 million at Robert Quinn shortly before his 30th birthday last year. But Quinn was on and off the injury report from the start of training camp and gave the Bears only two sacks in 548 snaps in 2020.
And now, just when there were finally some signs that Quinn was regaining the form that made him a dominant pass rusher, he’s injured again. He hurt his ankle on one of his seven plays in the preseason opener Saturday against the Dolphins — he looked fast during his stint — and was out of practice Monday.
While coach Matt Nagy didn’t specify the severity of Quinn’s injury or how long he would be out, it’s yet another setback at a position of high concern. Of all the things on the Bears’ to-do list leading up to this season, getting Quinn back on track was one of their top priorities.
‘‘We want to get that right,’’ Nagy said when Quinn began missing time during training camp. ‘‘It’s been a really good start . . . a really, really good thing.’’
Quinn still was steaming over his lackluster debut season for the Bears when he reported for camp and called it ‘‘just a terrible year.’’ He had 11œ sacks with the Cowboys in 2019, his most since being an All-Pro in 2013.
Quinn has been an enigmatic personality and player throughout his decade in the NFL, and the Bears were aware of that when they signed him. He had five sacks as a rookie for the Rams, then erupted for a combined 40 in the next three seasons.
His production dipped when he played in only 17 games in the next two seasons, then struggled to adapt when the Rams switched from their 4-3 defense to a 3-4. That meant Quinn had to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, which he hated. So it was strange when he picked the Bears and their 3-4 defense in free agency, and he alluded to that being a suboptimal fit recently.
‘‘If you’ve known my career, if you know me, you know where I like to be,’’ Quinn said when he was asked how new defensive coordinator Sean Desai can maximize his skills. ‘‘He knows where I’m dominant at. You’ve got to do what best fits the team but also what best fits the player to get the best out of the player.’’
There’s little chance Desai will allow the success of the defense to hinge on Quinn’s health. Veteran outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who had five sacks in 13 games for the Broncos last season, is a logical choice if Quinn is out.
That sack total would have ranked second on the Bears last season, trailing only Mack’s nine, as they finished 17th in the league with 35 overall. Two seasons earlier, they were third in the NFL with 50.
That’s the key to their defense and, by extension, their season. It’s hard for any team to thrive when it pours money into an area and doesn’t get a commensurate return on the field. That’s what has happened to the Bears with Quinn, and his latest injury is discouraging.