An outbreak of COVID-19 cases that has skyrocketed throughout the NFL this week is increasingly impacting the Bears.
After placing five players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday through Wednesday, coach Matt Nagy revealed Thursday that all three Bears coordinators—Bill Lazor (offense), Sean Desai (defense) and Chris Tabor (special teams)—are being placed in COVID protocol.
Like Nagy did after testing positive in October, the three coordinators will quarantine away from Halas Hall and participate in team meetings exclusively on a virtual basis.
"They're still going to be heavily involved in the game plan, and they'll still be a part of all that, just like I was when I was out, via Zoom," Nagy said.
It has not yet been determined whether Lazor, Desai or Tabor will be able to return in time to coach Monday night's home game against the Vikings.
"I don't know that for sure," Nagy said. "We're prepared if they are and we're prepared if they're not … We'll have a plan in place and I'm not going to get into right now who's replacing or who's filling in for those three guys … Obviously, you hope that they all are OK and good and can be there."
Asked specifically about replacing Desai, Nagy said he'd consider all defensive position coaches as well as Mike Pettine, who's in his first year with the Bears as a senior defensive assistant after spending the previous three seasons as Packers defensive coordinator.
"They all have different abilities," Nagy said. "With coach 'Pett' being here and being in that role, there's an opportunity there. But we're going to work through all of that."
Later Thursday, the Bears placed six more players on the COVID list: receiver Allen Robinson II, safety Eddie Jackson, tight end Jesse James, linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, running back Ryan Nall and practice squad receiver Isaiah Coulter.
The Bears now have 12 players on the COVID list, with 11 of them being placed on the list this week: Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Monday; nose tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Artie Burns and practice squad outside linebacker Sam Kamara Tuesday; and right tackle Larry Borom Wednesday. Tackle Elijah Wilkinson has been on the COVID list since Nov. 26.
In addition, eight other players did not practice Thursday due to non-COVID illnesses: Running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, tight ends Cole Kmet and Jesper Horsted, receiver Jakeem Grant Sr., guard James Daniels, tackle Teven Jenkins and nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, who also has a shoulder injury.
As a result, the Bears changed their schedule Thursday from a full practice to a walk-through and decided to conduct their post-practice meetings via Zoom.
"We want to make sure we're smart and taking care of the guys' bodies both physically and mentally," Nagy said. "We will not have a single live rep. It's all walk-through, it's all mental."
The Bears aren't the only NFL team affected by COVID-19. The Rams have 25 players on the COVID list, while the Browns and Washington have 21 apiece.
The league announced Thursday that it has updated COVID-19 protocols to "address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant."
"Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel," the NFL said in a statement. "We will continue to strongly encourage the booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19.
"All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community."