LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- New Bears coach Matt Eberflus made it clear what to expect of this training camp.
“We’ve got to be a hard team,” Eberflus said. “We can’t live soft and play hard. You just can’t do it. That’s not the way football is.”
Of course, there has to be a delicate balance to preserve players’ bodies. Eberflus recognizes that, but the Bears have struggled to maintain health through two weeks of training camp.
During practice Wednesday morning on the back fields of Halas Hall, the Bears didn't have nearly enough stationary bikes for the 19 players working with the training staff along the sidelines. That accounts for 21% of the 90-man roster, including running back David Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet, center Lucas Patrick, receiver N’Keal Harry, receiver Byron Pringle and cornerback Kyler Gordon.
“Yeah, it’s a whole football team over there,” Bears receiver Darnell Mooney said.
After practice last Friday, Mooney noticed players were sprawled out on the floor of the locker room. Kmet called it one of the most physically challenging practices he had ever endured. The Bears have quickly found what they're in for with Eberflus in charge.
Eberflus has a self-imposed policy in which he declines to offer details on minor injuries, and the Bears don't yet have any players on their active roster who are certain to miss their regular-season opener against the 49ers on Sept. 11.
But the injuries that keep piling up risk stunting the development of the Bears offense during what’s a pivotal period of repetition. Second-year quarterback Justin Fields is taking snaps from backup center Sam Mustipher, not the projected starter Patrick. He's often targeting reserve receivers like Isaiah Coulter and Dazz Newsome instead of Harry and Pringle, who were brought in to compete for starting spots.
Fields is missing out on the chance to develop chemistry with many of his targets.
“It’s next man up,” Mooney said.
That’s a football mantra that's most often stated in late December, not early August.
On defense, the rookie Gordon is missing an opportunity to establish himself as the starter at the nickel position. He has performed well in that role early on. Gordon isn’t in any jeopardy of losing his grasp on a starting role, but the opportunities in practice matter.
The one player whose absence from practice has been expected is star linebacker Roquan Smith, who publicly requested a trade Tuesday morning as he continues to be unhappy with how long-term contract negotiations have played out. When training camp opened, the Bears placed Smith on the physically-unable-to-perform list in what was considered a procedural move. Smith has been present in team meetings but is sitting out practices. On Wednesday, the Bears didn’t even have a stationary bike for him to use on the sideline.
The Bears plan to play their starters against the Chiefs in their preseason opener Saturday at Soldier Field, a choice that will bring an increased risk of injury. It’s unclear what Eberflus’ plan is for his starters in the final two preseason games.
What's more clear is that with the list of injuries growing by the day, the Bears have a growing problem as they move closer to the start of the new season.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.