A Bears season on the brink arguably went over the cliff a short time ago with the woeful performance against Tampa Bay. Now the downward spiral seems to just keep gathering speed.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the Bears’ leading tackler and one of the offseason priority signings in a defensive makeover, has been suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL’s policy banning use of performance-enhancing drugs.
This follows exactly a week after wide receiver Alshon Jeffery received the same punishment for the same infraction. The Bears lost then-rookie tackle Tayo Fabuluje to a four-game suspension last November after testing positive for what Fabuluje said was a substance intended to suppress appetite.
Defensive lineman Ego Ferguson also drew a four-game suspension last November for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The suspension came two days after Fabuluje’s and while Ferguson already was on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury.
Coach John Fox disagreed with any suggestion that the Bears have a broader issue with substance abuse.
“No, I think much like anything, whether it’s DUIs or speeding tickets, I think people understand the rules, but they get broken,” Fox said. “That’s typically a player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and we have pretty strict things while they’re in this building. But they do leave the building, usually around five o’clock every day…
“Obviously it puts us in a tough spot. That’s why you usually see apologies; I think they understand that and it’s obviously a mistake and one they typically regret.”
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Beyond the PED aspect, the suspension also continues the avalanche of major Bears personnel losses for more than just a series or even a game. Besides Jeffery last week, the Bears lost guard Kyle Long and defensive lineman Will Sutton to injured reserve last Tuesday. Long is scheduled for surgery on his injured ankle next Monday, with shoulder surgery to follow at an unspecified date. Add to that the loss of quarterback Brian Hoyer with a broken arm at Green Bay in late October.
Freeman’s spot now falls squarely in the realm of player development, with rookie Nick Kwiatkoski expected to step into Freeman’s position. Kwiatkoski started at inside linebacker in place of injured Danny Trevathan in the loss at Dallas.
“We know Jerrell's a great leader on the defensive side of the ball and in the locker room for the whole team,” said tackle Charles Leno. “It's a tough loss to have. He's responsible for what he puts in his body, but next-man-up mentality. We've got some guys that can step up big for us now.”