Why the Bears’ success handling injuries is a sign of a good team

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Bears safety Deon Bush and nickel back Sherrick McManis are playing more because of injuries. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As good as it felt to play a full game for the first time in two years, Bears safety Deon Bush preferred to understate what he did in the Bears’ 14-9 victory against the 49ers.

“It was all right,” Bush said. “It wasn’t anything spectacular. There weren’t any big plays made or anything like that. But they scored nine points, and that’s what it’s all about.

“[It’s] whatever I can do to help as a unit. When you hold a team to a certain amount of points, then the whole defense is doing its job.”

Overall, he felt more comfortable than he did as a rookie in 2016, when he started six games.

“It was a little bit of a whirlwind then, especially just getting a grasp of the defense, not being sure all the time,” Bush said. “I was just really playing unsure, like, the whole time, never really knowing completely what to do.”

It didn’t look that way against the 49ers. Bush even received the rare Vic Fangio seal of approval.

“He can be better; we need him to be better,” Fangio said. “But, overall, I was pleased with his performance.”

Bush’s performance in place of injured starter Eddie Jackson became the latest example of the Bears’ success in overcoming injuries.

The Bears have stayed healthier this season. Changes made to their strength/conditioning and training staffs and coach Matt Nagy’s adjustments to their scheduling, from organized team activities to the regular season, have been positive. Do you remember when Nagy sat his starters in the preseason?

At this point last year, the Bears had 10 starters and 16 players overall on injured reserve.

But the Bears also have handled their injuries better on the field than they did under former coach John Fox. They’re no longer viewed as excuses for losses. Instead, the Bears’ records without their best players are remarkable:

† They’re 2-0 without outside linebacker Khalil Mack (ankle) and wide receiver Allen Robinson (groin).

† They’re 1-1 without quarterback Mitch Trubisky (shoulder).

† They’re 7-1 without right guard Kyle Long (foot).

† They’re 2-0 without nickel back Bryce Callahan (foot).

† And they’re 1-0 without outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) and Jackson (ankle).

The Bears also are built to withstand injuries better because their roster has been improved after four seasons with general manager Ryan Pace. In 2016, Bush, a fourth-round pick that year, filled in for a less-proven Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey when they were hurt. This year, Bush took over for Jackson, who was named to his first Pro Bowl.

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Long hasn’t played since injuring his right foot in the Bears’ ­24-10 victory against the Jets. But in Long’s place, the Bears turned to veteran Bryan Witzmann, an October free-agent addition who started 13 games for Nagy and the Chiefs last year.

In the last four games, running back Jordan Howard has averaged 4.3 yards per carry, a better mark than his season average of 3.6. ­Witzmann has played a key role in that improvement.

“He’s given it everything he’s got,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “He’s maximized everything we’ve asked him to do, no question about that.”

Overall, that’s an underrated part of the Bears’ success this season, too. The fill-ins have been fine. The Bears are maximizing their roster.

“I think all of our other coaches have done a great job of preparing the other guys,” Helfrich said.

Injuries haven’t diminished the Bears’ defense, either.

But stopping the Vikings this week will be more challenging for Bush, nickel back Sherrick McManis and outside linebacker Isaiah Irving, who are filling in for Jackson, Callahan and Lynch, respectively.

“Knock on wood, we haven’t had a lot of those [injuries],” Fangio said. “Khalil missed his games. He missed two games statistically, but really he missed four.

“And now we’ve had Eddie, Aaron and Bryce missing their games, so we haven’t had the onslaught of it, but, overall, we have handled [injuries] well. The guys that have come in have done a nice job.”

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