Bears

Cutler out with 'strained' hamstring; Bears won’t name Jimmy Clausen starter yet

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Cutler out with 'strained' hamstring; Bears won’t name Jimmy Clausen starter yet

The news on the hamstring injury to Jay Cutler, stemming from his attempted tackle following an interception thrown in the second quarter of the Sunday loss to the Arizona Cardinals, came down on Monday, that the quarterback suffered a “strained hamstring.” What exactly that means for the 2015 Bears is anything but clear, however.

The Bears are expected to be without their starting quarterback for more than just next Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks — ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Cutler will miss "at least two weeks" — although coach John Fox would say only that the starter for Seattle “is yet to be determined.”

[RELATED - What do Bears have in Cutler replacement Jimmy Clausen?]

Whether the Bear at some point elect to shut Cutler down is always an option but the exact severity of his hamstring strain is not public information.

Along with the news comes a longer-term look at possible implications for the Bears. Jimmy Clausen is expected to become the starter effective with the Seattle game.

It is entirely possible for a backup to emerge as a stunning replacement, as Tom Brady did when Drew Bledsoe was injured in the 2001 New England Patriots season.

But Clausen is not viewed as a long-term solution for starting quarterback. Being forced to use a relatively green backup for the better part of this season could be setting the Bears up for a difficult course in 2015 but also for positioning in the 2016 draft that, based on their final record, could afford them options among the elite prospects coming out of college.

The Cutler injury comes as an almost eerie echo of 2011 when Cutler attempted to tackle a San Diego Chargers defensive back after an interception, fractured his right thumb, requiring surgery and sidelining him while the Bears went from 7-3 and near the top of the NFC to 8-8 and out of the playoffs behind Caleb Hanie.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The loss of Cutler would a massive hit on the quarterback room, with Clausen the starter for the foreseeable future, backed up only by David Fales from the practice squad and who has never taken an NFL snap. Whether coincidence or foreshadowing, Fales was included among the main group of players in the Bears’ 2015 media guide, an inexact indicator of players’ position vis a’ vis making the roster.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.