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SportsMondayTuesday: Bears Win Backup Battle

If I have to hear one more thing about the poor Chargers and their horribly unfair run of injuries . . .

Exactly how long is it going to take for the big re-set? That will be the one when announcers like Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico (and they have plenty of company along these lines) finally figure out that NFL football games featuring only an injury or two are the exception and have been for a while.

Do these guys, who called the Bears' 22-19 victory at San Diego on Monday night, pay attention to the injury reports at all? Because if they did, they would know that the rule is now that NFL teams deal with at least a dozen significant injuries every week and that players are dropping like flies in game after game. And it is way past time for the average NFL announcer to acknowledge this fact. I hate to break it to them, but the Chargers' run of injuries is now the norm.

I am far from an objective observer but it sure would have been great if Tirico in particular (Gruden is just about hopeless) would have inserted a reservation or two at the end of just a few of his dozens of references to how banged up the Chargers are. If he had, he could have mentioned that just on offense, the Bears were playing with their third-string center, two guards who were not expected to start at the start of the season, another guard at right tackle and the second-string left tackle.

He might have also noted that the Bears' second- and third-best wide receivers were out of action. Oh yeah, and the Bears' top offensive threat the last half dozen years, that guy named Matt Forte? Sidelined.

So while the Chargers may have suffered a slightly higher rate of injury than average so far this year, it is at most slightly higher. The trick now in the NFL is to have a host of competent backups ready to go. They've had them ready to go in New England so far this year, where the Patriots have been beset by a half-dozen significant injuries to offensive linemen and have simply found different ways to proceed and moved on undefeated week after week.

The Bears have a long, long way to go to catch the likes of the Patriots (although one ever-more-likely, late-career injury to Tom Brady will completely re-set the comparison). But it is clear that John Fox and his staff, particularly coordinators Vic Fangio and Adam Gase, are making significant progress building the team's depth.

It is also becoming more and more apparent that general manager Ryan Pace nailed the draft earlier this year. And that is without first-round pick having played a down.
Second-rounder Eddie Goldman of Florida State has been stout in the middle of the defensive line, a critical need especially after veteran defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff was cut a few weeks ago. Hroniss Grasu, who was taken in the third round out of Oregon, had battled through his debut as the team's center of the future a few weeks ago and was ready to proceed when he was sidelined by a neck injury. Who knows what to believe with the Bears' injury reports but I believe it is more likely than not that Grasu will return to the lineup in the next few weeks.

When fourth-round pick Jeremy Langford out of Michigan State gathered himself, dove, and made that great catch of Jay Cutler's long pass down the seam in the first quarter last night, he made the play that sealed Forte's departure at the end of the year. Of course the back-up running back won't win the starting job based on one catch alone but the guy who totaled 142 yards on 21 touches (carries and receptions) took his opportunity against the Chargers and sprinted down the field with it.

And fifth-round pick Adrian Amos is becoming a fixture in the Bears' secondary. After years of drafting safeties in the middle rounds of draft after draft, the Bears appear to have finally found a playmaker who can drop back into coverage effectively and who is even better moving up and making aggressive tackles in the run game.

Most importantly, a host of undrafted free agents who either signed with the Bears out of college or were castoffs from other teams are contributing in myriad ways.

Christian Jones is one of those guys. The inside linebacker, who was a teammate of Goldman's at FSU, was undrafted and then picked up by the Bears. He has become a stalwart in the middle of the Bears' starting defense. And the two guys who also rotated in at middle linebacker, LaRoy Reynolds and Jonathan Anderson, were also both former free agents who made impactful plays on Monday.

Finally, anyone could have signed tight end Zach Miller after Jacksonville dumped him after several injury-plagued years, and the Bears watched him almost make their roster last year before suffering another season-ending injury late in the preseason. But it was Pace and Co. who signed him again this past off-season and there was Miller making the spectacular game-winning catch in the fourth quarter last night.

Some of those guys will get injured in the next few weeks. But Fox and his staff won't bemoan their bad-luck run of injuries. They'll just send out the next, well-prepared guy.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays, or Tuesdays when warranted. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021