Bears injuries trend in right direction before preseason finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After days and days of injuries piling up for the Bears in the latter stages of training camp, the team finally started moving in the right direction on Thursday. The Bears finished practice on Wednesday with 21 players standing on the sidelines, not participating in drills. One day later that number was down to 16, with several big name guys among the five who returned to the field.
The most surprising player who returned to practice was Cole Kmet, who left Wednesday’s practice on a cart. But he was back on Thursday like nothing happened.
“He's all squared away,” said head coach Matt Eberflus. “He's fine. There's nothing wrong there. Cole's as normal as he can be.”
That’s big, as the newly-extended tight end figures to play a big role in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense both as a blocker and pass catcher.
The most significant return was Yannick Ngakoue. The prized free agent defensive end signing hasn’t seen much of the field since he first practiced with the team over two weeks ago. It’s been unclear how much of Ngakoue’s absence has been due to Eberflus’ ramp up system to slowly increase the workload for players who have missed time, and how much of his absence was due to an injury. If the Bears want to start fast this season, they’ll need Ngakoue rushing the passer at full speed.
The running back room was almost back to full strength, as D’Onta Foreman and Travis Homer each returned after sitting out the end of Wednesday’s practice. The Bears boasted the best rushing attack in the NFL in 2022 and there’s reason to believe they could be even better this season. Foreman should be a big part of that, while Homer figures to be a core special teams contributor. Second-year back Trestan Ebner remains out, and finds himself on the roster bubble due to his extended absence.
Finally, tight end Marcedes Lewis and defensive end Rasheem Green each returned after one day off. It’s unclear if these two guys missed due to a minor malady, or if they were given a veteran day off. Green has emerged as a top-line pass rusher with DeMarcus Walker out for most of the month. Meanwhile, the Bears brought in Lewis not only to act as a veteran presence in the locker room to work as an effective run blocker off the edges.
The team was still without many players, including key starters on the offensive line like Teven Jenkins, Nate Davis and Darnell Wright. The Bears anticipate Jenkins being out for an extended amount of time while they maintain Davis and Wright are dealing with day-to-day issues. This unit is worth monitoring the most since they'll be tasked with keeping Justin Fields out of harm’s way during Saturday’s preseason finale.
The team is still working out exactly how many snaps Fields and the rest of the starters will play, but however long he’s out there, he’ll either be playing behind a patchwork o-line, or behind blockers who haven’t gotten a ton of work recently. Eberflus said earlier this week that how the offensive line fares would play a role in the decision to play Fields or sit him this Saturday. Over the past week or so, Eberflus has seen enough from the backups who have been playing with the ones to feel good about putting Fields in the line of fire.
“They've done a nice job so far in terms of executing the offense,” Eberflus said. “We feel good where those guys are right now.”
Even though the team’s health trended in the right direction on Thursday, the Bears are still without many players who figure to either start or play key roles on the team. Starting safeties Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson remained sidelined, along with first-team wide receiver Chase Claypool, return man Velus Jones Jr., starting defensive end Walker and special teams standout Josh Blackwell. The other Bears who sat out on Thursday were Jaylon Jones, DeMarquis Gates, Dylan Cole, Lucas Patrick, Joe Reed and Dante Pettis.