With a decimated offensive line, introductions may have been necessary when the Bears stepped onto the practice field Wednesday at Halas Hall.
Due to injuries and illness, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was the only member of the regular starting five who was able to participate in the workout. There's no truth to the rumor that Leno is being fitted for a bubble-wrap suit, but it wouldn't be a bad idea given the circumstances.
Left guard James Daniels suffered a season-ending pectoral injury Oct. 8 in a win over the Buccaneers. Center Cody Whitehair remains sidelined after hurting his calf Oct. 26 in a loss to the Rams. Right guard Germain Ifedi was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. And right tackle Bobby Massie will spend at least the next three games on injured reserve after sustaining a knee injury in last Sunday's loss to the Saints.
Unfortunately, key reserves have also been affected. Rashaad Coward, who has started the last three games at left guard in place of Daniels, practiced in full Wednesday but is listed on the injury report with a knee issue. Jason Spriggs, who replaced Massie at right tackle against the Saints, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. And Sam Mustipher, who made his first start NFL start versus New Orleans at center in place of Whitehair, did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury.
The only healthy offensive linemen at Wednesday's workout were Leno, first-year pro Alex Bars and rookie seventh-round picks Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons—along with practice-squad members Dieter Eiselen, Aaron Neary and Badara Traore.
As the Bears prepare for Sunday's game in Tennessee, they're formulating multiple contingency plans for their offensive line. It's something they do every week at all positions given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
"One of the things that you have to do when you're game-planning is you've got to try to forecast where guys will be at," said coach Matt Nagy. "You have to have backup plans, so as we're creating a game plan, we try to think of all the situations and then, schematically, you have to be able to adjust.
"If you don't adjust and you just do things the way you've always done them, at least for a contingency plan, you'll end up being in trouble. That's just in fairness to everybody. I have a lot of faith in our coaching staff across the board in being able to do that."
Nagy has that confidence in part because of the fundamental drills that offensive line coach Juan Castillo conducts before, during and after practice.
"I like one of the things that coach Castillo does with some of these younger guys is just a lot of extra work when he can," Nagy said. "And so now you have an opportunity where you have a couple guys that are dinged up, and now it's their time to go out and get some reps and see where it goes."
The Bears are hoping that some of their ailing linemen will be able to play against the Titans. That includes Ifedi, who is required to remain on the COVID-19 list for five days but could be activated Saturday if he tests negative.
"All our guys want to be as healthy as they can and they want to be able to play through injuries," Nagy said. "I think where you have to be careful is this: if you have an injury that's going to affect the way you play and you try to tough it out, that's not good for our team. So we've got to be smart in regards to how that goes, and you've got to balance all that. I feel really good about coach Juan and the way he handles these situations. He always has his guys as mentally prepared as they can be."
Veteran quarterback Nick Foles was pleased with how the young linemen performed in Wednesday's practice.
"I was really proud of the guys with how we responded with everything that was going on," Foles said. "Today, it was just stepping in the huddle and making sure that guys are relaxed and loose because I know it's not an easy situation; all of a sudden you're stepping [in] and you're playing. I get it, and maybe you're in a different role. Been there, done that.
"I think the most important thing is just to know that, 'Hey, there's going to be a calmness in the huddle and we're going to be in this together. And if we make a mistake, it's going to be all right. Let's just keep playing. The game doesn't stop. We're still here. We still have each other's backs.'"