Since training camp opened with safety Eddie Jackson on the non-football injury list with a hamstring issue, the Bears’ defense has yet to be at full strength in its quest to regain its lost glory.
That doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. With linebackers Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Robert Quinn already out, defensive end Akiem Hicks was a mysterious absentee Tuesday after leaving practice during warm-ups.
Hicks’ departure occurred after coach Matt Nagy addressed the media Tuesday morning. And the Bears did not divulge any information about Hicks’ absence after practice. Nagy was seen talking to head trainer Andre Tucker on the practice field after Hicks left, then had what looked like an extended serious conversation with general manager Ryan Pace, presumably about Hicks’ situation. Nagy will next meet the media Wednesday morning.
Hicks is the eighth defensive starter to miss practice this training camp — including cornerback Desmond Trufant, who is battling Kindle Vildor for the starting job. Smith (groin) has been out since Aug. 7. Trevathan (knee) has been out since Aug. 10.
Previously, Jackson missed 12 days at the start of camp. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman missed 10 days while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Safety Tashaun Gipson missed two weeks with a groin injury. Quinn missed nine days with a back issue, returned on Aug. 12 and played seven snaps in the preseason opener against the Dolphins on Saturday. But he suffered an ankle injury and has missed practice the last two days.
Nagy said he was not worried about Smith’s extended absence, with the season opener not until Sept. 12. “No news is probably good news with him,” Nagy said.
The Bears have generally been unfazed by the defensive injuries. None of them appears to be serious. There’s still more than three weeks before the opener. It’s a veteran defense that has a base of continuity with first-year coordinator Sean Desai, a Vic Fangio disciple. And the depth appears strong, with defensive end Angelo Blackson, linebackers Christian Jones and Alec Ogletree filling in and Vildor starting in place of Trufant at corner.
The Bears even remain upbeat about Quinn, who already has been sidelined by two injuries as he attempts to atone for a disappointing first season.
“I’m not concerned about him,” Nagy said, “because he had a really good start to the camp — when he got here with the rookies he was looking really good and he’s making plays. It’s football and you get banged up here or there. We want to make sure we’re smart, get him to Week 1.”
Second-year linebacker Travis Gipson, who played 35 snaps against the Dolphins, is next in line after Quinn. He’s unproven, though he has shown improvement from last season.
“Trevis has grown up tremendously as far as just fundamental things,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “Playing the run a little more physical, definitely getting off the ball and playing the pass. He’s doing the small things very well. But it’s up to him to take that next leap.”
While it might be disconcerting that key players such as Smith and Trevathan are still not practicing, the Bears are taking a cautious approach with all their injured players, with an eye on the opener against the Rams on Sept. 12.
Jackson returned Aug. 10, but did not play in the preseason opener last Saturday. Goldman returned Aug. 12, but also did not play against the Dolphins. But both were fully active in practice Wednesday. But it remains to be seen how much they’ll play in the preseason.
“It’s great to get Eddie back,” Nagy said. “Conditioning-wise — no worries, no issues at all. He’s been great. For all of these guys … you’re always making sure you’re careful a little bit with the reps — who plays, how long they play — because you want to have him Week 1.”