Bears

Trouble out wide for Bears

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Trouble out wide for Bears

No Jay Cutler. No Matt Forte. Now no Johnny Knox.

Wide receiver Johnny Knox was undergoing back surgery on Monday following the nightmarish hit he took in Sundays loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The hope is for a full recovery that will give Knox a chance of returning to his game, but more importantly, also to a pain-free life after a horrible injury.

On a completely different level, the Bears suddenly are facing desperate game situations needing to win by running the ball but without the full presence of their two speed receivers to create at least the threat of a deep throw now and then.

Knox was leading the Bears in receptions (37) at the time of his injury after leading them in receiving yardage last season. His gaudy 19.8-yard average per reception ranked among the NFLs best.

Now he is gone for the year and Devin Hester, the other outside speed opposite Knox, is still fighting through ankle and other minor injuries. Hester caught zero passes Sunday, wasnt targeted on any throws, and has zero receptions in five of the Bears last six games, and just one in the Philadelphia game before that span.

Meaning: The Bears primary receivers right now are Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher and Roy Williams, with a combined 4 receptions Sunday.

Ominously perhaps, Williams is still having communications problems with Bears quarterbacks, and now there may be a different one throwing to him. Williams misconnected with Caleb Hanie and the result was a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Browner in the fourth quarter.

That may have been Hanies last pass as a Bear.

Josh McCown replaced Hanie on the next series, only to see his second pass attempt, toward Williams, also be intercepted.

The Browner INT is on me, Williams said. Thats my fault. Dont put it on the quarterback; put it on me. It was a great play by the defender.

Bennett averages 15 yards per catch with a long of 34 this season. Sanzenbacher less than 10 yards per reception, none longer than 18 yards. Williams has no catch longer than 25 yards in 2011.

Weve lost some of our firepower out there, coach Lovie Smith acknowledged. Devin, best returner in the history of the game, knows how to make you miss and stretch the field. Johnny has had that role for us.

So we are missing those guys. But when youre down a few players you have to adjust what you do and find other ways to move down the field. You dont have to do it vertical always and thats what we have to do.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

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Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: