The Bears and the rest of the NFL live by necessity according to the next-man-up personnel philosophy. Player injured? Next man up. Player cut? Next man up.
But this is bordering on the absurd.
“Well, we brought in a new guy in Ziggy Hood,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with understated simplicity. “We’ve brought in a few new guys recently before Ziggy. We are going to figure it out and get our five best up for the game by Sunday.”
That’s one thing at the start of training camp. It’s potentially quite another doing it in-season, on the fly.
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In the wake of Ego Ferguson going on injured reserve Oct. 17 and Jeremiah Ratliff being released last week, the Bears just six games into the 2015 season have no hand-on-the-ground defensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than Will Sutton (19), a third-round pick in last year’s draft.
Sutton, in fact, has more games as a Bear than all the other Bears' defensive linemen combined: Eddie Goldman, six; Jarvis Jenkins, six; Mitch Unrein, four; total: 16.
The net result, with a veteran leader like Ratliff gone, is an entirely new leadership core to the foundation group of any defense.
“I’m the old guy now,” Sutton said, laughing. “It starts with me, Eddie and Jarvis, because we’re the three that have been here,” Sutton said. “So we’ve got to step up our play. The new guys that come in, we need to take it upon ourselves to get in extra meetings, get in earlier, stay a little longer, so when it comes to game days, they can come in and play right away.”
Even the new core is not without concerns. Sutton suffered an elbow injury in the Seattle game and missed both the Kansas City and Oakland games. Jenkins left the Detroit game briefly with a head injury but did return.
And those were the situations that so far have ended well.
Ray McDonald, then a starting defensive end, was released May 25. The Bears lost Cornelius Washington to IR on Sept. 14. Ego Ferguson, who had knee surgery on Wednesday, joined Washington on IR last week. And then the Ratliff drama unfolded last Wednesday, followed by his release on Thursday.
“Me, Jarvis and Eddie are the three that have got to step up and go out there and be the leaders of that line,” Sutton said. “It’s going to be quite a responsibility but it’s going to be fun.”