Sam Bradford

Depth check: How injuries and suspension will have a major impact on Bears-Vikings

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USA TODAY

Depth check: How injuries and suspension will have a major impact on Bears-Vikings

A month ago, the Bears could reasonably describe their depth at inside linebacker as strong, and maybe as the strongest unit on the team. 

But on Monday, the Bears will be without the trio of players who comprised that depth: Jerrell Freeman is on injured reserve with a pectoral tear; Nick Kwiatkoski’s pec injury isn’t as serious but will keep him sidelined; and Danny Trevathan will serve his one-game suspension for the helmet-to-helmet hit he leveled on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams last week. 

Trevathan will be back next week and Kwiatkoski appears to have avoided injured reserve, meaning he can be expected back at some point this season. But without them, the Bears will roll with Christian Jones, John Timu and Jonathan Anderson (the latter two began the season on the practice squad) against the Minnesota Vikings. 

“It's a concern, but at least we're playing with guys that were here that were in camp,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “That was the one position on defense, when we went to the 53 and practice squad where we did have guys, we had four active and two on practice squad and now all six of them have played, so (we) feel good about that in that we're not having somebody in off the street having to learn a new system and I think they'll all do fine.”

Jones and Timu have seen a decent amount of snaps alongside Trevathan this year: In the last three weeks, Jones’ defensive snap counts are 47, 36 and 28 while Timu played 17 snaps against Pittsburgh and 19 against Green Bay (Anderson has not played a defensive snap since Week 2). 

Timu, who’s played in 20 games over the last three years, will handle the defensive calls on Monday.

“We’re confident in John,” Fangio said. “John knows our defense. He’s been here for three years. The game’s not too big for him. He loves to play. He is instinctive and smart. So we think he’ll go in there and do fine.”

Added linebacker Pernell McPhee: “Timu’s a very good player, a very smart player, a very patient player. I think his play on the field shows how much he’s studying and how much he’s really locked in throughout the week.”

The Bears may be without two other starters, too: Saturday’s final injury report listed outside linebacker Willie Young (tricep) as doubtful, while cornerback Marcus Cooper is questionable with back spasms. Going back further, the Bears are also without veteran safety Quintin Demps, who handled a lot of the communication duties for this defense. 

But the Vikings will be without rookie Dalvin Cook (74 carries, 354 yards, 2 TDs), who tore his ACL last week. Backups Jerick McKinnon (2.6 yards/attempt) and Latavius Murray (2.7 yards/attempt) haven’t inspired much fear in 2017. And the expectation at Halas Hall is that quarterback Sam Bradford will start, though he’s listed as questionable on the Vikings’ final injury report. 

So in the matchup of the Bears' defense against the Vikings' offense, the group that gets the most out of its depth guys may be the one that swings that battle on Monday. 

“Any time you lose a starter — I think there's a reason they're the starter — but you know I feel good about our backups,” coach John Fox said. “I feel good about the replacement people we've had in there. We've got more depth this season than we've had in the past so I feel confident in the people we'll have out there and the options we have.”

Three Bears necessities for a win in season finale

Three Bears necessities for a win in season finale

As many Bears fans wish the team keeps "trending" as it has since their third win four weeks ago against the 49ers (in order to secure the third overall pick), we'll repeat: those who do end up suiting up for both teams want nothing to do with putting the franchise in that position.  The effort they show stays on tape, whether they're a starter risking losing their grip on that status, or fringe players trying to remain in the league to cash a pretty nice paycheck.

As we await the playing status of the likes of Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Bryce Callahan (you can all but scratch Leonard Floyd) for the Bears and Alex Boone and Stefon Diggs for the home team, 2017 auditions have been going on for quite some time for both of these injury-ravaged teams. For those so interested as they come out of their New Year's Eve celebration fog, keep a roster handy, as the thick clouds from a lost 2016 season blow over, with more questions than we wanted two years into this regime still need answering in the months ahead.

1. START LIKE YOU GOT A GOOD NIGHT'S REST

... which will be more than many of us out here can say.  But seriously, the Bears have lost six of seven since these team's first meeting (and their best game of the year). The Vikings have dropped eight of ten since their 5-0 start, with some players blowing off their coach's gameplan to start last week's loss in Green Bay. As much as the aforementioned effort is important, how will one team handle a couple of quick scores by the other out of the gate?

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

2. COMMIT TO THE INDIANA ALUM

At least to get Jordan Howard his 61 yards to set a new franchise rookie rushing record. Then see how things are going.  But I'd like to see Dowell Loggains and the offensive line accept the challenge of how Minnesota will certainly defend the Bears with what's still a very talented defense missing a couple of parts. Howard gets better the more he's fed, and Charles Leno Jr., Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie (along with a fullback or second tight end) should accept that challenge eagerly. Now, I'm not certain if I want Howard to gain much more than that.  If I'm running the show, I might get Howard out of there once he gets the record. The last thing I want to see is another key player for 2017 having to spend his offseason in rehab. Once Howard gets it, see if Jeremy Langford can end a disappointing sophomore season on a good note.

3. 72.1

That's how many yards per game the Vikings have averaged on the ground this season. 217. That's the average number of yards the Bears defense has generously offered Green Bay's and Washington's ground games the past two weeks. With Diggs likely out, the Bears' biggest concerns in the passing game are Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen (who's turned into a legitimate, undrafted threat this season, just 40 yards away from 1,000 yards). But with a key member of Sam Bradford's receiving corps absent, can the Bears manage to keep Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata close to that league-worst rushing average?

**Be sure to join Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller on CSN at 11 a.m. Sunday morning as the three ex-Bears and Chris Boden get you ready for kickoff on Bears Pregame Live. The guys offer their thoughts on what the Bears need to do in the offseason with so much uncertainty and decisions to be made. As soon as the second quarter ends, log on here on CSNChicago.com as Miller and Boden break down the first 30 minutes and go over adjustments on Bears Halftime Live. Then, right after the game ends on Fox, switch back to CSN as the guys get back together for 90 minutes of game reaction, analysis, live press conferences, locker room interviews, and more "big picture" conversation and debate about moving forward into 2017 on Bears Postgame Live.**

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Call it variations on a theme. The Bears on Monday night will face not only the Minnesota Vikings, but also Sam Bradford, the latest quarterback opponent that hints at possibilities in the Bears’ own future far beyond what was once the norm.

That norm is what can reasonably be expected from a new quarterback, one coming into a new system, new environment, even a new league, and having near-immediate success. Quarterback changes can involve upheaval of staff, personnel and even franchise identity, as the Bears can confirm based on their last eight years with Jay Cutler.

The experiences in Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia point to the kinds of quarterback transitions the Bears may be in search of after the 2016 season.

Bradford arrived in Minnesota via trade just eight days before the season opener, yet has proceeded to post the best results of his career: for completion percentage (67.5), interception percentage (0.6 percent; 7 TD’s vs. 1 INT), yards per attempt (7.4) and rating (100.3, vs. a previous best of 90.9).

More important, without the Vikings’ starting left tackle (Matt Kalil) and running back (Adrian Peterson), Bradford has the Vikings leading the NFC North and tied for the NFC lead at 5-1.

“[The Vikings] had the misfortune of losing their quarterback, they go out and make a bold move to get him and they haven’t missed a beat offensively,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s been getting better and better.”

This all holds particular relevance for the Bears, who saw Brian Hoyer step in and deliver four straight 300-yard passing games, something he’d never done in his career and no quarterback in Bears franchise history had done. Cutler’s personal best was two straight, for purposes of comparison.

The Bears are expected to have a new quarterback in some form or other next year. In the meantime they have been victimized by two rookie quarterbacks already this season (Carson Wentz, Philadelphia, and Dak Prescott, Dallas). The experience of Bradford, Prescott and Wentz, all new in 2017 to their situations, suggests chances of dramatic improvement over the Bears’ recent history with Cutler, for example.

“A good quarterback can influence the guys and make guys around him better,” Wentz said. “So it’s one of those things where the quarterback usually gets too much credit and too much of the blame as well. It’s just kind of the nature of the position.”

Prescott and Wentz were 2016 draft choices and had offseasons and training camps with their respective teams. Bradford had none of that, yet began his year throwing 130 passes without an interception.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

How that happens may be illustrative for the 2017 Bears. The Vikings traded for Bradford, a one-time starter for the Rams and Eagles. But because of the late-offseason timing of the deal, necessitated by the season-ending leg injury for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Bradford had to be eased into the new offense.

“I think that’s honestly one of the bonuses of coming during the regular season,” Bradford said on Thursday. “Obviously it would’ve been nice to have some practices in training camp. But once you get into the regular season, it’s not like you have the whole playbook in each game plan. Each game plan is very specific for that week’s opponent, so it’s considerably less than would be in your training-camp installs.

“So I think that helped a little bit. But as far as it being cut down, the volume wasn’t so much cut down as how the plays were called, naming some concepts with some things I was familiar with. That really helped me.”