Recent history suggests that the Bears don’t handle injuries well
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org September 4, 2012 9:54PM October 3, 2004----Chicago Bears host Philadelphia Eagles----Injured Bears Brian Urlacher ---Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze
Updated: September 4, 2012 11:25PM
The Bears and Lovie Smith have earned the skepticism that has tempered enthusiasm for the team’s most anticipated season since at least 2006, maybe since the Ditka era.
On July 24, Brian Urlacher was ‘‘full-speed ready to go,’’ according to Smith.
On Aug. 2, his ‘‘knee was a little sore.’’
On Aug. 5, he was downgraded to ‘‘hopefully we’ll get him back out here before too long.’’
On Aug. 6, he was ‘‘making progress, and we’ll see once he gets back on the football field.’’
On Aug. 7, ‘‘he’s been excused again for personal reasons. Guys are going to miss some days from time to time for different reasons.’’ On Aug. 11, ‘‘his knee is sore. He’s been gone for personal reasons. That’s all we’re going to [say] on the subject.’’
On Aug. 14, Smith dropped the big one. ‘‘The knee didn’t respond as well as we wanted it to, so we had a scope this morning,’’ he said, referring to the arthroscopic surgery on Urlacher’s left knee. ‘‘We’re still right on schedule, whatever that schedule is.’’
‘‘Whatever that schedule is’’ — that’s about as close as Smith has come to giving us an accurate assessment of Urlacher’s long-term status. I need to brush up on my Lovie-to-Reality dictionary, but it sounds like it means, ‘‘He’ll be ready to go until he isn’t.’’
(Not sure what it means, but it’s kind of odd that Smith is insisting that Urlacher will play Sunday when he habitually takes every opportunity to keep a player’s status in doubt. He could have had the Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck preparing two offensive game plans — one with Urlacher in the middle and one with Nick Roach. Is he losing his touch?)
It wouldn’t be surprising if Urlacher plays Sunday, or the following Thursday at Green Bay — his recuperative powers are pretty impressive. But it’s the cumulative wear-and-tear effect of real NFL games that poses the biggest problem for Urlacher.
It’s true that after suffering a hamstring injury in 2004 Urlacher still started the opener against the Lions and at Green Bay the following week after missing most of the preseason. But it can’t be ignored that he also missed seven games that season and never played more than five consecutive games because he aggravated the hamstring and suffered a calf injury. He finished the season on injured reserve.
That’s when he was 26 and in his prime. Now he’s 34 and not in his prime. Yet when anyone suggests Urlacher ease into the season — I suggested he play only against the Packers and Cowboys in the first even weeks — the Bears look at you like you have two heads.
But it’s not just Urlacher’s knee that creates doubt about this season.
It’s also Chris Conte’s shoulder, Adam Podlesh’s hip flexor and Stephen Paea’s ankle.
Every NFL team has injury issues, but the Bears don’t seem to handle them very well.
The Bears have endured a litany of non-extremity injuries with a similar pattern: The player either can’t stay healthy or is never the same (Marc Colombo, Rex Tucker, Mike Brown, Rex Grossman, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher among them).
The only time the Bears have reached the playoffs since losing Super Bowl XLI is the one season they were healthy — in 2010, when they had such great luck with injuries you can recite the missed games by key players off the top of your head: Jay Cutler (one game), Lance Briggs (one game), Roberto Garza (two games) and Pisa Tinoisamoa (six games).
Reserve linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was the only player put on injured reserve that season, when the Bears reached the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. They lost 21-14, with Cutler missing most of the second half with an injury.
Last year, though, the Bears had six players on IR, including right tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard Chris Williams, Conte and long snapper Pat Mannelly. And that doesn’t include Cutler (who missed the last six games with a broken thumb) and Matt Forte (who missed the last five games with a knee injury). They finished 8-8, seven games behind the 15-1 Packers.
So putting together a competent offensive line and getting pressure from their defensive front will be child’s play compared to the real challenge the Bears and Smith face this season. They have to get healthy. And they have to stay healthy. It might take a little more than keeping their fingers crossed.