Cole Kmet

Cole Kmet's early practice exit adds to injury problem that's nearing critical mass for Bears

The Bears' growing list of injured, banged up, or limited players added another key body when tight end Cole Kmet left practice early Wednesday

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With 18 days until the Green Bay Packers arrive at Soldier Field to kick off the 2023 season, the Bears' injury issues are nearing a critical mass, and tight end Cole Kmet might soon be joining the list after leaving practice early.

Kmet exited team drills early in practice and rode back from the Walter Payton Center on a cart. The Bears did not comment on the injury. Head coach Matt Eberflus will speak with the media Thursday.

Kmet's early practice exit adds to a growing list of injured Bears that reached 21 players by the time practice ended Wednesday.

While the training area in the corner of the WPC was overflowing Wednesday, the Bears aren't concerned by the string of snake bites to key players, including right tackle Darnell Wright, safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker, wide receiver Chase Claypool, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker, and offensive linemen Nate Davis and Lucas Patrick. Starting left guard Teven Jenkins was given a week-to-week status and could miss time into October.

“I mean, this is my sixth year in man, that’s just training camp," linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who returned to practice for the first time in three weeks Monday, said. "Things are going to come up. That’s life in the NFL. Coach preach it, different people preach it across the league. It’s kind of like that next man up mentality. I feel like every position – obviously, when your twos and your threes are training like they are going to be that team, that’s when you have a dynamic guy. That’s when you have a good team. Sometimes, you find out a lot about yourself when somebody else have to step in and grow up. Obviously, it’s a situation that you don’t necessarily want to be in but I think when you are in that situation, you can find out more about your team and more about your depth, find out more about different things that you couldn’t predict from the start of the season.”

"I think that it’ll be fine," running back D'Onta Foreman, who was limited Wednesday and had a limp, said after practice. "Around the teams I’ve been on, I’ve seen these types of things happen, but they always roll back around, and things are going to end up being fine."

Yes, the Bears have time. That's true. It's possible that a number of the key players doing planks and band walks on Wednesday will be ready to go by Week 1.

But we're also getting to the point where it's hard to brush this off as just training camp bumps and bruises. Several of these situations have been going on for weeks, and some players who have returned and started ramping up appear to have suffered setbacks.

First, there's Wright.

The rookie right tackle suffered an ankle injury in Tuesday's practice. He limped off the field and didn't return to team drills. On Wednesday, Wright had a noticeable limp and a light brace on his ankle. Larry Borom is the next man up at right tackle.

With Jenkins out, the Bears plan to have Lucas Patrick as the first-team center, with Cody Whitehair moving over to left guard. But that picture is in complete flux right now. Whitehair has a wrap on his right hand after suffering an injury last week in joint practices. Meanwhile, Patrick returned to practice for the first time in several weeks on Monday, but he was limited Tuesday and did not participate Wednesday.

Right guard Nate Davis missed a large chunk of time earlier in camp. He returned last week and has been ramping up. But Davis was among those not participating Wednesday. He has taken limited team snaps in practice since returning.

“I guess when you say everything is fluid, you could get thrown a different curveball every day," offensive line coach Chris Morgan said Wednesday. "The health of your team is different every day.

"You want consistency. You want the best five, the same five out there. But you guys know that it doesn’t always happen like that. These other guys have been training, working hard, ready to, next man up. It does create great opportunity, you know what I mean? For guys that have been second-team, third-team guys. Creates great opportunity, great experience. The rest of these guys that are injured or hurt or whatever it is, they’ll get back as fast as they can and that’s football."

Five of the Bears' best six offensive linemen are either injured, banged up, or trying to ramp up. That's a problem on Aug. 23. But the retooled offensive arsenal is also bleeding fuel. Kmet left Wednesday, and Claypool has been out for two weeks after being a full participant in the first 11 practices.

“Claypool is progressing really well," wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said Wednesday. "He was doing a pretty job, having a really good fall camp before he pulled his hamstring. He’s really learning the offense really well. As a matter of fact, while he’s been out, I quiz him more than anybody in the wide receiver room to make sure he’s on top of everything. He always answers the questions."

The Bears are leaning on the value of off-field chemistry as the team training room approaches capacity.

Edmunds returned Monday, but a Bears defense with stratospheric expectations is missing both safeties and its top three pass rushers.

When fully healthy, the Bears' defense has a nasty edge. They talk a lot and believe they can back up. But the connective tissue needed to realize those expectations can't be developed with four starters on the sidelines and one just returning.

The Bears are confident they can hit the ground running if everyone can get back by Week 1, but that's putting a lot of faith in what goes on off-turf.

"I think first off, I wouldn't necessarily say flip the switch because even if that is the case we're still taking strides here at practice.." Edmunds said when asked if the defense can turn it on with limited reps at full strength. "So as far as flipping the switch, it's not like we're just going into it and not prepared as far as not communicating with one another, getting on the same page with one another. As far as uncontrollables, some things you just can't control. You know, if that's the case, then those are things that we can't control, so those are things that obviously you're going to have to work through. But it just goes back to us relying on the trust factor that we have as far as the practice that we put in, the walk-throughs that we have, the meetings that we have. So whether it's an extra emphasis toward that, then that's one thing, but as far as flipping the switch, we're professionals, man, and doing what we have to do to have our bodies ready, doing what we have to do to make sure we're on a winning chord, that's something that we'll just have to look into when that time gets here."

Of the 21 players who are either injured, banged up, limited, or in "ramp-up" mode, 13 would be considered starters or key contributors.

The injury issues are costing the Bears valuable time on turf. They also could force them to sit quarterback Justin Fields in the preseason finale instead of putting him behind a patchwork offensive line that likely will only have one expected starter in Braxton Jones.

That means an offense with "A to Z" issues with execution, detail, and precision will lose its final opportunity for live game reps before Week 1.

But with Fields, Jones, Darnell Mooney, DJ Moore, and Khalil Herbert being the only fully healthy starters on the first-team offense, any progress they might make Saturday would be minimal at best.

Time is still on the Bears' side. Several of these absences could be precautionary. But the walking wounded are growing at Halas Hall, and their one saving grace will eventually become their enemy as Week 1 approaches.

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