September 20, 2021


Hub Arkush: If the injury bug is already biting, the Bears’ defense is in trouble

And so it begins.

But are we talking about the Bears’ 2021 season, or the crumbling of their not so long ago, much-feared defense?

Now take a breath everybody, I am not predicting or even sensing Armageddon yet.

But with the spotlight on all of the excitement at quarterback and drama at offensive tackle throughout the exhibition season, are the potential cracks in the foundation of that defense already beginning to show?

It has been well documented throughout the offseason that with Eddie Goldman returning from a year away from football, along with Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan, Tashaun Gipson, Christian Jones and Alec Ogletree all now on the wrong side of 30, the possibility of a rapid decline on defense cannot be ruled out.

So when the first injury report of the year landed Wednesday with Goldman missing practice because of a knee problem, and Quinn and Mack limited with nagging backs, it was absolutely the last thing fans wanted to hear.

I asked rookie defensive coordinator Sean Desai a short while ago if having a defense built around all those 30-somethings left him at all concerned?

“Yeah, I think when you talk about the age thing, my experience has been very, very diverse in this league with that, and it’s really up to the individual player and how they prepare their bodies and their minds,” Desai said. “Our guys are more veteran guys that have responded very well and they all understand that.”

On Thursday, head coach Matt Nagy was selling his best Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?”

“He (Goldman) tweaked his knee on Monday in practice, and so he’s gonna be day-to-day, literally,” Nagy said.

Asked if there were any signs of concern before the practice “tweak” Nagy added, “I thought he was looking pretty good. I think he’s in a good place. He’s been rockin’ and rollin’ this whole time.”

Nagy also indicated that Mack’s and Quinn’s limited practices were more precautionary than symptomatic.

Mack isn’t interested in talking about his nagging injuries last year or worrying about them this season.

“That sounds like excuses,” Mack said. “But for me personally, I know I can play better. So ultimately, what I can control is what I can control. Charles Woodson told me a long time ago, he was like, ‘You cannot waste time. This (expletive) is very valuable.’”

While Nagy is quick to point out his team will not live in the past, he does know what he needs that’s been missing the last two seasons.

“The takeaways, the turnovers and then also too there was a little bit of swag out there that I think this team had, and I love that about those guys,” Nagy said. “When you’re having fun, you’re cutting it loose, you’re playing fast, you have success, you know that can help out so many ways.”

It should not be lost on us that the Rams were in the exact same situation last year having moved on from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and hired former Nagy assistant Brandon Staley, who in one season returned the Rams defense to No. 1 and earned himself a head coaching job.

Does Nagy see similarities between Desai and Staley?

“They’re very bright. They’re very likable. And they’re really great teachers,” Nagy said. “When you can connect with players they trust you. Those guys do that and they’re able to be honest, to be trustworthy, and they’re motivators.”

And Nagy isn’t necessarily buying that this group is just older than 2018 and therefore not as good.

“The guys that have aged are still in great position age-wise, it’s not like they’re old,” Nagy said. “We have still a nucleus of guys and some young guys (Bilal Nichols, Roquan Smith, Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson) too that are coming up and becoming third- and fourth-year players that are, you know, it’s a good mix.

“That’s probably why I feel good about that mixture of young vets versus older guys that have been there, done that but also understand that we want to get that back.”

All we can do now is wait for Sunday night, but we do know this: Mack, Quinn and Goldman at anything less than their best are guys this team cannot contend without.

Is that first injury list just a blip or an omen?

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media