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Bears Fri Aug 09 2013

Injuries Crippling Bears Depth At Key Positions

Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngUnder the relentless heat of late July, 2,880 players make their way to NFL training camps across the country, each being able to call themselves professional players for the short time before roster cuts slash the total to just under 1,700 before the season begins. With that many players fighting all out for the few available jobs, injuries are bound to happen; a few of those being serious and potentially season ending.

The Bears have been one of the luckiest teams in the league when it comes to health in the last few years, getting a high majority of their starts from the men that top the depth chart at each position. They've dodged long term injuries to starters so far in camp, unlike teams like Philadelphia (Jeremy Maclin) and Baltimore (Dennis PItta), but they've suffered some crippling injuries when it comes to depth.

Earl Bennett has struggled with injuries throughout much of his Bears career. He missed four games in 2012 and five in 2011 due to various ailments, and has seen his production drop in each of the last four seasons. Despite that, he's still seen as an important part of the offense due the fact that he can play in the slot, and has a long history with Jay Cutler dating back to their college days. If only he could stay on the field.

He suffered his second concussion since December in the first 10 days of camp, and will miss tonight's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. His return is a complete unknown, which is pretty standard in a protective NFL when it comes to someone that's had a concussion, let alone multiple head injuries in less than a year.

Undrafted free agent Joe Anderson and seventh round pick Marquess Wilson are the two front runners for the opening at slot receiver. Anderson had made some big plays at camp, and Wilson would've been a third round pick had he not been suspended at Washington State and subsequently quit the team. Devin Hester and Eric Weems could also see time there as well, but Marc Trestman has seemingly made it clear that Hester won't have a role on offense. Anderson and Wilson will each have an opportunity to make their case, but they'll most likely be a downgrade when it comes to cohesiveness Bennett had with Cutler.

Kelvin Hayden, though not a starter from a technical sense, was the lead runner for the nickel corner spot before suffering a season ending hamstring tear. With the amount of three-wide sets that NFL teams employ, the nickel corner position has morphed into one of the most important on the team. Hayden's loss is crucial because of the solid tackling he brought to the table while being able to adequately cover and makes plays against slot receivers. The Bears didn't address their need for depth or youth at corner in the draft or free agency, and are now stuck with their own retreads.

Isaiah Frey, the Bears sixth round pick from 2012, is the leading candidate to fill the void. He was waived by the team before the regular season began last year, but was a member of practice squad throughout the campaign. He's also been one of the biggest playmakers so far in camp -- not only getting to poor passes, but making plays and taking them the other way. Being a Phil Emery draft pick will help his cause, but Zack Bowman shouldn't be overlooked either. After not making the team out of camp last season, the Bears called him back in response to Tim Jennings injury that left them short a man in the secondary. His skills on special teams will likely earn him a spot on the team anyway, but he'll probably be the first corner on the bench behind Charles Tillman, Jennings, and now Frey.

Though the Bears have been lucky to avoid an injury to one of their best players so far, a lack of depth in the NFL is almost as costly. If recent selections in the late rounds by Emery end up working out, they'll be just fine. But there's no evidence to trust his drafting thus far.

 
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