The Chicago Bears are going to have to hope their roster is in a healthier place when they make it to the other side of their bye in Week 10.
The Bears added another two more starters to their growing list of injured veterans during Week 9’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing both wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive end Akiem Hicks to injuries before the end of regulation. While head coach Matt Nagy hasn’t given much of an update for either of them since then, he did say that Robinson is dealing with a hamstring injury while Hicks sprained his ankle.
Robinson and Hicks are only the latest of the Bears’ contributors to join the injured list. They were also without All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack, two-time Pro Bowl free safety Eddie Jackson and backup running back Damien Williams for Sunday’s game against the Steelers, while right tackle Germain Ifedi remains on injured reserve.
The Bears (3-6) might not have the brightest of outlooks for the back half of the 2021 season, but fighting at full strength — especially on offense — will be critical to the development of rookie quarterback Justin Fields in the long-term future. They might even be able to sneak into playoffs on a wild-card bid if all the right pieces can fall into place for them, similar to how things worked out last year.
Health, however, will be paramount.
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Bears Would Need WR Help Without Robinson
At this point, the Bears have given no reason to suggest that Robinson will not be ready to play when they face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11, but things would get awfully thin for their receiving corps if his hamstring ended up costing him time.
Fields would still have his favorite passing target in second-year Darnell Mooney if Robinson was subtracted from the rotation, but the rest of his wideout options would boil down to Marquise Goodwin (12 receptions in 2021), Damiere Byrd (four receptions) and Jakeem Grant Sr. (zero receptions). Even if all of them played above expectations, more depth would be necessary to safeguard them against another injury depleting their ranks.
The good news is there are some noteworthy options for the Bears to explore on their practice squad, starting with Rodney Adams. He turned heads during the preseason with his 10 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown and seemed to have a genuine on-field connection with Fields that could work to their advantage. They also have sixth-round rookie Dazz Newsome — who was slowed during training camp with an injury — to consider for a potential elevation to the game-day roster.
Hicks’ Injuries Beginning to Add Up
The first several years of Hicks’ time in Chicago were truly special. After a solid first four seasons spent mostly in New Orleans, Hicks took his game to the next level with the Bears defense and became a bona fide game-wrecker for their defensive trenches, generating a combined 25 sacks and 150 quarterback pressures across his first three seasons without missing a game. He was also part of the reason why Mack was so effective during his first year in 2018 with the team, bringing a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rush to the interior while the All-Pro Mack worked the edges to devastating effect.
Unfortunately, one of the most important things for any player — availability — has started to become a problem for Hicks in the later years of his career.
Hicks missed 11 total games in 2019 after suffering a right knee injury in Week 3, attempting to come back after missing only a week but suffering an elbow injury that forced him to spend the next few months on injured reserve. While he did return once more in Week 15, it was short-lived as he reaggravated the injury and was eventually shut down for the rest of the season.
Hicks was much healthier during the 2020 season, but his production didn’t exactly fall back into line with his improved availability. Even as he continually pressured and landed hits on quarterbacks, his sacks total was halved with nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted-out for the season. He also missed a game with a hamstring issue.
Now, availability issues are once again rearing their head for the 31-year-old defender. Hicks suffered a groin injury on the Bears’ first defensive play against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, missing two of his next three starts as a result of the issue. He finally returned to full-time action in Week 8 against San Francisco, but a week later he was back on the sideline with his current issue of a sprained ankle.
The hope, of course, is that Hicks can use the bye week to rest and recuperate, and maybe he will manage to do that for the Bears. If he ends up missing more games in the second half of the season, though, Chicago may have a difficult time justifying a new contract for him when he becomes a free agent in March.