Since the beginning of training camp, the Bears' defense has had to deal with an avalanche of season-ending injuries, from outside linebacker Lamarr Houston to inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman to safety Quintin Demps. According to the Chicago Tribune, Willie Young will be added to that list with a season-ending torn triceps.
The Bears listed Young as a limited participant in Thursday's practice, but the veteran outside linebacker didn't participate in practice on Friday or Saturday and was officially deemed doubtful for Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Young had two sacks this year, tied for the team lead with Akiem Hicks and Pernell McPhee, and totaled 26 sacks since joining the Bears from the Detroit Lions in 2013.
"It’s definitely going to impact the rotation," McPhee said of Young's injury. "Just another guy who knows how to get after the quarterback. This is where our depth in our room is really going to show in how much we trust in each other. I think we got the guys who can make up for it, but you really can’t make up for Willie, so we got guys who are going to play a major role in this game."
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Without Young, the Bears likely will elevate either Isaiah Irving or Howard Jones from the practice squad to the active roster for Monday night. Irving, an undrafted rookie from San Jose State, notched three sacks during preseason play while Jones had five sacks in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But Young's injury puts the Bears' defensive depth — which was already going to be tested Monday night — in an even more precarious position. McPhee and Leonard Floyd are the only outside linebackers with recent pass-rushing success (Sam Acho had seven sacks in 2011, but only has one sack in four years with the Bears). And Floyd hasn't made an impact getting to the quarterback this year, whiffing on a shot at Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3 and recording his first sack last Thursday against the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears will need Floyd, especially, to step up and fill the pass-rushing void left by Young. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio intimated that Floyd's back injury, which limited in practice earlier this season, played a part in his slow start to his second year in the NFL.
"He’s had his good moments and not so good," Fangio said. "He played the first week or so with a little wrenched back that affected him some in the first game and some of the second game. I thought he played well against Pittsburgh. And then last week really none of us played well enough to win.
"... I think he’s progressing on a good, upward trend. It maybe hadn’t translated to the stats, which you guys want to see, but he’s doing fine."
While the Bears' defense has been solid, it hasn't made a lot of big plays: Nine sacks (21st) two forced fumbles (20th) and no interceptions (29th). McPhee on Saturday described what can help jump-start those playmaking efforts — efforts that, without Young, will need to be successful for this defense to weather another significant injury.
"Just (go) out there and — I call it playing chess instead of checkers — just beat your guy," McPhee said. "Don’t worry about how he’s going to block you, just — everybody stays study your opponent, but sometimes you have to study yourself. You could study your opponent all you want to but if you ain’t studying yourself and don’t know what you did wrong, you’ll never win no matter how much you study a guy. So for me, it’s just like, make a guy block you, go make a player, especially when you get that one-on-one."