Well that didn’t take long.
Bears fans have had a rough go of it since February, really. You could argue the fans have had it badly for years now, but let’s try to focus our frustrations on the 2016 season for now.
Pernell McPhee’s knee was a problem coming into his Bears tenure, and as luck would have it, he re-aggravated the injury and missed a fine chunk of the season. He had “routine” surgery that should’ve had him ready to go by training camp, and when it was time to do team photos, Pernell looked like he had put on a fair amount of weight. By the time he showed up at camp he had shed some pounds, but his knee wasn’t ready to go, and many wonder whether the team is protecting his status to shield themselves from criticism.
Manny Ramirez was supposed to be the emergency valve if Grasu or either one of the interior linemen went down, and he decided he’d rather retire than endure another NFL season. That absence is looming particularly large now.
Nate Chandler, only 27, came to the team with the prospect of competing for a depth position on the offensive line. He too decided his body wasn’t worth the effort, and chose early retirement.
Ted Larsen was battling an undisclosed injury prior to camp, but with his contract laden with playing incentives, he has provided a spark to the offensive line thus far in camp. His durability is in question, as with the quantity of fights he incites in practice may or may not be conducive toward long-term health prospects – for him and others. Regardless of what some may think of his attitude or behavior, Larsen is currently an invaluable member of the team.
Alshon Jeffery, coming off of a season where he earned a reputation as having unreliable soft-tissue injures, trained in Florida on his own rather than join the team in OTAs. After a few highlights in training camp, he too tweaked his hamstring and has been held out of practices since.
Zach Miller was a revelation last year, but with an injury history that’s off the charts, it was only a matter of time before something came up. The something this time was a concussion. Joining him in the “guys without helmets pacing the sideline” club was Eddie Royal, he himself no stranger to scrutiny and injury, having barely participated in the 2015 season thanks to a nagging knee issue.
An unidentified player was overheard by one of the Bears beat reporters as saying, “That’s a lot of money on the sideline,” observing Royal, Jeffery, McPhee, Kevin White (who had the day off) and Miller all standing aside watching others take their reps. It’s no surprise to Jay Cutler, certainly, who didn’t have any of his top targets last season, and with much of last season’s WR skeleton crew still on the roster in addition to a few rookies, it is certainly apparent that Ryan Pace isn’t quite ready to count on Jeffery, White, or Royal to be healthy – wisely so.
None of any of these hurts so much as what happened to starting center Hroniss Grasu at the 2016 Family Fest practice at Soldier Field. Grasu stepped awkwardly on a screen play and went down with no contact. Even the usually obfuscative Fox didn’t veil the serious nature of the injury when asked about it. The writing was on the wall – when a player goes down without contact and leaves on a cart, the implications are generally obvious.
His season is over, and his NFL career in tremendous jeopardy. Grasu didn’t even get a full season as starter to showcase his leadership ability and talent. The former Oregon Duck’s journey back may culminate in another city on another roster if Ted Larsen, Cody Whitehair, or Cornelius Edison snatch this opportunity for themselves. It’s a shame.
Yet for all of this, here we are with only a handful of days away from the Bears taking the field for their first preseason game against the defending champions and John Fox’s former employer in the Denver Broncos. The once-loud buzzing from fans over how this team was underrated, disrespected, and better than what’s on paper has now been dampened to a more timid hum.
Fans have been through this before, and while the new era under Pace and Fox is preaching patience, the frustration of seeing talent riddled with injuries before the exhibition portion of the season has already started. We’re a pessimistic bunch, and failure, disappointment, and underachievement is just part of rooting for this particular franchise, proud though we are.
There’s no reason to abandon hope or surrender to dismay, however. The season is long, injuries afflict every team, and if the team can endure these exhibitions without further serious injury, anything is possible.
Don’t give up, Bears fans. The year didn’t hinge on the health of Hroniss Grasu’s knee ligaments. Or Alshon Jeffery’s hamstring. Or Eddie Royal’s knees and brain. Or Zach Miller’s entire broken body. Or Pernell McPhee’s knee. Or two veteran backup o-linemen retiring unexpectedly.