One of the first things most fans and management personnel want to review at the end of the season is the medical report. The time is already here to begin working on 2016’s campaign, and knowing who’s in, who’s out, and who’s iffy is a critical piece of baseline knowledge.
A very basic rundown of the Bears based on player status at the season’s end shows that there are three main issues that need to be kept at the forefront of personnel plans as St. Patrick’s Day approaches.
Potential Losses From Concussions
Right now the Bears are happily free of concussions. But the process of getting back to a 100% roster could be marred with one simple blow to the head.
It remains to be seen what the impact of NFL concussion litigation will be, but the immediate results are obvious. We have left behind the days when a quick sideline assessment and a couple plays to “shake out the cobwebs” were enough to get a concussed player back on the field. With medical staff involved and a specific protocol to follow, players who have suffered concussions will be held out of practice and game action until there is medical evidence that they are able to resume activities.
Consequently, any concussions that do occur will now require a much longer recovery time, leaving a hole in the depth chart for longer than was previously seen. Of course, in time we’ll all adjust to the new system, especially as we see tragic stories like that of our own Jim McMahon and the suffering he has endured from repeated concussions.
Receivers and Backs
Having somewhere to throw or hand off the ball is rather important to quarterbacks. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of the most important thing to them. Of course, nothing weighs more heavily on the rotation of receivers than the status of Alshon Jeffery. He missed seven games last season with a combination of calf and hamstring trouble.
And with him now heading into free agency, the picture is very cloudy for the Bears’ front office as they look ahead to trades and the draft. Beyond Jeffery, the staff is pretty thin. However, it’s manageable if they can 1) keep Jeffery signed and 2) keep him healthy. The ideal outcome is both, of course, but if his health is at all in question, he could move quickly to another team as the Bears seek a healthier wideout to take his place.
The Game On The Line…The O-Line
While the overall protection structure for QB Jay Cutler has remained healthy, Bears center Hroniss Grasu missed the end of the season with a knee injury, and it’s unclear what will happen at that snapper position. Should Grasu miss more time, expect the vacancy to be filled with a trade rather than a draft pick so that an experienced player takes on the critical ball-handling and pocket-protecting roles for the Bears.
Tight end Zach Miller also missed the finale against the Lions with a toe injury. Giving Cutler the space to complete longer passes requires the option of that end protection, so watch for the status of Miller’s recovery as well.
It’s a long season and an even longer off-season. With a lot of weeks between now and training camp, the prospects are good that most of the Bears will be at full strength before activities begin this summer. But identifying the needs they’ll have to fill this offseason hinges largely on who gets healthy long before that, so that the team can navigate trades, free agents, and the draft with the right priorities.