With recent news that Brian Urlacher missed his 4th straight practice with a sore knee, I’ve been giving thought to the notion of what might happen if Urlacher misses any significant time this season. We’ve seen that show before, back in ’09 when Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury and it wasn’t pretty. Expectations for the 2012 Bears are sky high and one of the only things that could derail this season would be injuries, God forbid! So this got me to thinking about this latest Top 5 list – the Top 5 Players the Chicago Bears could afford to lose this season. Check it out and let me know what you think.
#5 – Charles Tillman
The Bears secondary could be a primary concern for the Bears this season, but we’re mostly concerned about the revolving doors at safety. Peanut is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and usually draws the opposing team’s top wide receiver. Tim Jennings has had a great camp and plays the Cover-2 well opposite Tillman, but he’s not ready to go against the Calvin and Andre Johnson’s of the world.
The Bears brought in Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite via free agency and drafted a couple of cornerbacks in the 6th and 7th round of last April’s draft. Those are some nice depth pieces, but they’re not the Pro Bowl caliber player that Tillman is. If Peanut goes down, the dropoff is serious and could cost us a few games if he misses any time.
#4 – Brandon Marshall
It’s strange to have a guy on the list who hasn’t played a single snap for the Bears, but Marshall is no ordinary offseason acquisition. The addition of a legit wide receiver and a Pro Bowl caliber one at that is the source of the optimism surrounding this Bears team. Marshall will change the Bears offense in a way we cannot imagine. He will make those around him better; Cutler, Bennett, Hester, Forte, et al.
If Marshall were to go down, the Bears wide receiver group looks a lot like it did last year. Rookie Alshon Jeffery would be thrust into a bigger role than the Bears had intended for him this early on. Hester and Bennett would return to familiar roles and the Bears offense would probably end up a middling unit and not a group with Super Bowl dreams.
#3 – Jay Cutler
When Jay went down after Week 10, the 2011 season went up in flames. All the Bears had to do was go .500 in their last 6 games and a playoff berth was all but assured. But the Caleb Hanie Project went so horribly awry, so the Bears invested in some veteran depth behind Jay Cutler, bringing in Jason Campbell as the backup.
You might be surprised that I have Cutler so far down the list, but Campbell is a legit NFL quarterback and many have argued that he could start for more than a few teams in the league. If the unthinkable were to happen and Cutler went down again, it would be a big blow to the Bears, but I don’t think it is a season-ender. Campbell has enough to keep this team afloat and win a few games.
#2 – Brian Urlacher
Urlacher is the quarterback of the defense and what he brings is unequaled. In the Cover-2, the Mike linebacker has to have tremendous range and enough speed to cover the deep middle of the field. You would think that the Bears would have invested in the position given Urlacher’s age and the fact that he’s coming off a knee injury in Week 17 to close last season. The only addition to the linebacker group was Geno Hayes, a veteran outside linebacker.
If Urlacher were to go down, Nick Roach would take over in the middle linebacker and Hayes would most likely take over for Roach at the strong side linebacker. I guess we’ll find out, since Urlacher will most likely miss the preseason opener against the Broncos. If ‘Lach were to miss any significant time, I don’t think it would be the disaster that ’09 was, but it would be damaging because the Bears still haven’t really addressed the depth at linebacker, unless you’re in the camp that first round draft pick Shea McClellin is Urlacher’s heir apparent. That might be, but not this season anyway.
#1 – Julius Peppers
Lovie Smith’s defense relies on creating pressure with the front four. As much as I like Izzy Idonije, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, the Bears defensive line is nothing without Peppers. The opportunities that the other D-linemen get are largely created because Peppers is drawing double teams. He’s a freak of nature and his stat line rarely reflects his impact on the field. That’s why Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were knocking on his door at the stroke of midnight when Free Agency opened a couple of years ago.
If Peppers went down, the Bears’ entire scheme and defensive mindset would change. Izzy would hold down one end and either McClellin or Corey Wooten might anchor the other side. That doesn’t exactly strike fear into the opposing offenses, does it?
What do you think? Who is the player the Bears could least afford to lose this season? If they lost any one of these guys for a significant amount of time, (Papa Bears forbid!), could the Bears live up to the playoff expectations for this season? Let’s hear your thoughts in the Comments.