Hub Arkush: Bears' injury problem rolls over into 2017 season

Published: Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 11:04 p.m. CDT
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long watches pregame warm ups before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago. — H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com

LAKE FOREST – Do the Bears have an injury problem?

They did in 2016, when they were near the top of the National Football League with 19 players finishing the season on the injured reserve list and led the NFL with more than 150 games lost to injuries by starters.

Injuries such as the torn anterior cruciate ligaments suffered by Eric Kush, Cameron Meredith and Patrick Scales are just plain-old bad luck.

There is nothing Bears players, head trainer Nate Breske, his staff, team doctors or sports science coordinator Jenn Gibson can do about those.

But on the day the team arrived in Bourbonnais, Ryan Pace talked about his club’s offseason efforts to try and ensure they will be healthier overall this year.

“Injuries are unpredictable, but we feel pretty confident with a lot of the things we’ve done. Going forward, there’s some optimism there,” said Pace. “There are subtle things in the weight room and the training room. There’s things with sports science that we’ve done with player tracking, that we’re [going to] be using more of this year.

“I think, hey, it’s a combative game; it’d be naïve to think injuries aren’t [going to] occur. That’s why it’s on us to make sure we stack our roster with depth, which, I feel like, we have better depth now, too.”

Five weeks later, it is fair to fear the club might still not be able to stay healthy.

Please hear me when I say I have absolutely no reason to doubt or criticize the efforts of Breske, Gibson or any of the team’s medical and training staffs. It may be the Bears are doing absolutely everything they can and are stuck in a run of lousy luck.

But after the Bears moved safety Deiondre’ Hall to the injured reserve list and re-signed defensive tackle John Jenkins, the club already had placed nine players on I.R. – and even that’s not the biggest problem.

Many were celebrating after the final cuts that Pernell McPhee had been moved from the physically-unable-to-perform list to the active roster.

But when asked whether McPhee would be ready for the opener Sunday against the Falcons, Fox replied, “Right now, we’re hopeful about everybody. We feel good about our football team, both who we selected, who we picked on the 53, the different reasons of how they got there.

“We feel good about having them available this Sunday.”

Hopeful is good, but here is reality: In addition to the nine already on I.R., after missing all, or at least almost all of training camp, it seems highly unlikely McPhee, Kyle Long and Markus Wheaton are more than the longest of longshots to be ready to go versus Atlanta.

Add to that the uncertain status of Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Prince Amukamara, and you’ve got half a dozen of the Bears’ most important pieces facing lost time before the team even takes a snap this season.

Asked whether he is concerned, Fox said, “I don’t know how we rank against everybody else. But I think some of them, like one roster move with Deiondre’ Hall, we had him make our 53. There is designation this year that they can return.

“So it’s not like they’re all lost for the season.”

If that is the good news, the Bears do have a problem because they are not as deep as Pace hoped they were when camp opened.

With Kush gone as well, if Long can’t play Sunday, the Bears may have to move Cody Whitehair to guard, weakening the center spot.

No one knows whether Wheaton can start in the NFL, but with Meredith gone, he has to. If Wheaton is out, the Bears starter on the other side of Kevin White is … ?

McPhee is key to not letting other teams scheme to block Leonard Floyd, and on and on the issues go.

It is too early to say how many other teams face injury issues to the extent the Bears do a week ahead of opening day, but it seems fairly safe to say it is a short list.