(MCT) — CHICAGO — The Bears didn’t prove to be resourceful in the absence of Jay Cutler last season.
Now, we’ll see what the quarterback can do against the Vikings when mounting injuries could sideline as many as four starters for Sunday’s game at Minnesota.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is out with a pulled hamstring, along with right guard Lance Louis (ACL) and cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder). Wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) also could miss the game.
Bennett quietly took the starting wide receiver job from Devin Hester three weeks ago, and the good news is Hester practiced Wednesday after missing Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks with a concussion. He could return against the Vikings along with rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has missed the last two games following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Injuries are no excuse for the Bears (8-4) because through the first 12 games the team had only four starters miss games — one each for Cutler, running back Matt Forte and linemen Chris Spencer and Louis. Last season, a 7-3 team with Cutler dropped out of the postseason picture while finishing 1-5 without him.
The Bears injuries are nothing compared with what the Packers, their competition for the NFC North title this season, have endured. They have had 12 starters miss at least one game, with wide receiver Greg Jennings, linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Charles Woodson out for a combined 16 starts. They have 10 players on injured reserve.
Playing without Urlacher isn’t going to be as challenging as it was in 2009, when he missed 15 games with a freak wrist injury. He’s not the same player physically after injuring his knee in the season finale at Minnesota a year ago.
But his leadership and communication skills as the quarterback of the defense cannot be replicated. Five times in the final 11 games in ‘09, when the Bears last played without Urlacher, the defense surrendered 30 points or more.
That alone adds pressure to an underperforming offense with a struggling line.
“We have to find a way,” Cutler said. “We have to be more efficient. Third down, we’ve been getting better. First down, we have been getting better. Red zone, when we get in there, we’ve done a good job. We just have to get more points.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice is encouraged because the Bears did their best job this season of pulling linemen on running plays in the loss to the Seahawks.
Moreover, Jeffery, who has missed half of the games with hand and knee injuries, appears poised to return. He was just about to break into the starting lineup when he broke his hand at Jacksonville on Oct. 7.
“We haven’t had him for any length of time to get him really in a groove,” Tice said. “Certainly he has shown he can complement Brandon (Marshall) so when opponents try to key on Brandon we really have two go-to guys on the field.”
Someone has to step up opposite Marshall because when you get past the big statistics he has produced, there’s almost nothing to evaluate. The one-man-gang approach has set the Bears behind where they were when the most glaring need was a No. 1 receiver. Maybe Jeffrey can alleviate that issue.
“I want the pressure,” Marshall said. “Our goals are still ahead of us so ... I expect to carry a bigger load this time of the year. I actually want to pick up my play.”
What is going to make the Bears better is if they can get more players to contribute when they are without the face of their defense for at least the next three games.