LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For the first two weeks of Bears training camp, Jaquan Brisker was arguably the best player on the field at Halas Hall. The second-year safety was everyone during the early days of August, flying around and wreaking havoc on a Bears offense still trying to find its footing.
It looked like Brisker was on track to deliver on his June promise that a "new No. 9" would take the field this season.
But like so many key Bears, Brisker suffered a soft-tissue injury in training camp and missed the final three weeks, including all three preseason games. Bears head coach Matt Eberflus promised the team was in a good spot healthwise, and that showed Wednesday when all expected key contributors were on the field and practicing at Halas Hall.
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All except two.
Starting left guard Teven Jenkins was one of the missing men. The Bears placed Jenkins on injured reserve designated to return Thursday. Jenkins will miss at least the first four games of the season with a leg injury.
The other missing man was Brisker, who worked on the bikes off to the side as the Bears went through individual and team drills. On Thursday, Brisker stretched but didn't participate in drills.
With the season opener just nine days away, Brisker's inability to practice is becoming a concern. Eberflus noted his starting safety is facing a critical few days of rehab while the rest of the team breaks for Labor Day.
“He’s doing things this weekend," Eberflus said Thursday at Halas Hall. "He’s been in there in practice this week, which has been good, and he’s been working off to the side also during practice, so he’s starting to get himself in there, and we feel good where he is. Wednesday will be a big day for him when we get back into the pads. So it’ll be a big day for us."
The Bears don't have to divulge injury information until Sept. 6, when NFL-mandated injury reports for Week 1 are due. That's the same day the Bears hope Brisker puts the pads on and returns to practice in full.
The only thing that's clear about Brisker's injury and availability for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers is that everything remains up in the air.
“It’s just the wait and see," Eberflus said. "How does the rehab go this weekend? Because he’s doing something every day. He’s doing something Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and then into Tuesday, and we’ll see where it goes. And then when you get the pads on and start cracking and doing full-speed movements, then we’ll see where it is.”
Brisker is the fuel for the Bears' defense. He's a high-intensity, hard-hitting safety whose energy is the lifeblood of a unit with massive expectations.
The Bears' defense was an unpluggable sieve last season. Brisker was one of the lone bright spots, along with a revitalized Eddie Jackson.
General manager Ryan Poles added talent to that unit at all three levels in the offseason, fueling the belief that a noticeable defensive improvement is on the horizon. An expected big Year 2 jump from Brisker was a massive part of that calculus.
"He’s one of our guys that is definitely an elite competitor," Eberflus said in early August of Brisker. "He loves to compete, he loves football. We love Jaquan’s emotion, his passion, and with a guy like that, his motor runs that hot where he has to harness it into a controlled situation where it works for him all the time. He’s done a great job of that. We’re excited to see him play this year."
Last season, Brisker led the Bears in sacks and was second in tackles and stops, per Pro Football Focus. He made some rookie mistakes, but his physicality and tenacity, especially in run support, were the only positives for the NFL's worst run defense.
The Bears have better top-level talent than a year ago. The addition of Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Ewards, and Yannick Ngakoue should help them go from dreadful to mediocre. Better linebackers and an improved defensive line should help the Bears be respectable against the run.
But Brisker's importance, especially against a Packers team that averaged 189 yards on the ground in two games against the Bears last season, can't be understated. Brisker's ability to clean up the mess when Jones or Dillon get into open space and blow plays up at the line are vital, irreplaceable assets.
Backup safety Elijah Hicks is a solid player who has improved, but the Bears can't fully replace Brisker's energy, toughness, edge, and playmaking ability if he is unable to play.
The Bears are close to full health as Packers prep begins. Only one question mark remains. We'll have to wait and see if it disappears before Love, Jones, and Dillon arrive on Sept. 10.