Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Bridgewater Injury Sends Waves Through NFC North

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater takes the field against the Bears last year in Minneapolis. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater takes the field against the Bears last year in Minneapolis. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

A huge injury shocked the NFL Tuesday and will have an impact on the Chicago Bears’ season. Here are 10 things you need to know with the season opener just 11 days away:

1. If the Bears think they have an outside shot at a playoff berth this season, their road just got a little easier. That’s the cold truth from a very unfortunate and scary injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater Tuesday. Just following the developments from Halas Hall via Twitter was unsettling. It was very apparent that Bridgewater suffered a significant knee injury. It’s not often an NFL team stops practice after just 25 minutes because of an injury.

The good news is that the Vikings expect Bridgewater to make a full recovery, but that doesn’t mean this is your typical torn ACL. Bridgewater dislocated his knee and “suffered a complete tear to his ACL and other structural damage,” according to the team.

Bears fans might recall Marc Colombo and Gabe Carimi, two offensive tackles who were both drafted No. 29 overall and who both suffered similar injuries in their rookie seasons. Carimi was never the same, even though he didn’t tear his ACL. Colombo suffered nerve damage and lost two seasons before he played for the Bears again. Eventually he rejuvenated his career with the Dallas Cowboys, four years after suffering the initial injury. Granted, both Carimi and Colombo played a much different position than Bridgewater, but they serve as examples of how serious this injury could potentially be for Bridgewater. Technically, Carimi and Colombo just dislocated their kneecaps, while Bridgewater appears to have done more to the knee, including the ligaments. Fortunately, the Vikings said there was no nerve or arterial damage. That’s very important.

So where do the Vikings go from here? The good news is that as a team, they are much better equipped to deal with a devastating blow to their quarterback than most teams — including the Bears. But the options at quarterback aren’t exactly inspiring. Shaun Hill is a career backup for a reason. At 36, it’s amazing he’s still in the league. Rookie Joel Stave was a lightning rod at Wisconsin. He has a strong enough arm to play in the NFL, but his inaccuracy and decision-making in college were on-going problems. It’s unlikely he could make the jump to the NFL and play well as a rookie.

The guess here is that the Vikings look for outside help. Colin Kaepernick and Mark Sanchez could be available soon. Of course, neither of those guys get you very excited either, which is why this injury is such a big setback for Minnesota. The Packers are now the clear favorite in the NFC North and an eighth of the Bears’ 2016 schedule just got easier.

Last year against the Bears, Bridgewater didn’t look very good in Chicago, posting a passer rating of just 72.5. But he improved as a quarterback as the year went on and torched the Bears in Week 15, throwing for four touchdowns while completing 85 percent of his passes and posting a 154.4 passer rating.

I still think there is a ceiling in Bridgewater’s game (and I’ve said many times that Jay Cutler should have been in the Pro Bowl last year over Bridgewater), but he’s definitely a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL and this is a big blow to the Vikings.

As I looked over the Bears’ schedule a few days ago, I saw the possibility of seven wins, with two losses to the Vikings. Those could potentially be wins now. Remember, the Bears end the season on New Year’s Day in Minnesota.

2. John Fox doesn’t say much about injuries, but gave a strong hint Tuesday that Kyle Long will be back for Week 1.

“I think it’s fair to say he won’t play this week against Cleveland, but we’re anticipating him at least being back out there to get ready for Houston,” Fox said.

When asked if that meant he expects Long to practice next week, Fox said:

“Just back out there. I don’t know what level yet until they clear him.”

As I’ve suspected since Long first suffered the labrum injury in New England, the right guard looks like he’ll be back for the regular season. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll be 100 percent and any kind of labrum issue for an offensive lineman is concerning. Given the lack of depth on the line, it’s important Long plays, but you know the coaching staff will be monitoring his effectiveness very closely.

3. Speaking of the rest of the offensive line, I’m still of the belief that the Bears could use an outside addition. As it stands right now, Cornelius Edison looks to be a lock as the backup center. From there, Garry Williams might actually be the favorite to be the swing tackle, with Jason Weaver as the swing guard. Otherwise, we haven’t seen much from Mike Adams, Khaled Holmes and Amini Silatolu, three veterans who were brought here with a chance to prove themselves.

One interesting name that became available Tuesday is longtime Vikings center John Sullivan, who was released. He appears to be healthy and was simply beaten out by Joe Berger in camp. Considering Berger is 34, that’s not a great sign for Sullivan, but it doesn’t mean he still wouldn’t be a good option for the Bears. Of course, it’s important to note that Sullivan was reportedly on the trading block for days before he was released, so the Bears clearly don’t want him that badly, if at all.

With Kyle Long projected to be back at right guard for the opener, Ted Larsen will likely start the season at center, but if there’s a better option out there, the overall depth of the Bears’ offensive line would be better if Larsen was the backup swing guard. On that note, Kent Somers from The Arizona Republic had an interesting tweet Tuesday:

This isn’t surprising considering the Cardinals let Larsen and Massie go (and what else is a coach going to say? He’s not going to say they got worse.) But it still speaks to an uncertain situation for the Bears’ offensive line going into the season, especially with Long’s injury.

For what it’s worth, I was somewhat encouraged by Edison’s first preseason start Saturday and it would be a positive development for the Bears if he pushed for the starting job in the regular season.

4. With their top three cornerbacks down with injuries, the Bears made an addition Tuesday, claiming K’Waun Williams off waivers. Williams played well as the Cleveland Browns’ nickel corner the last two seasons, but he was let go Monday after a wild preseason in which he and the team had a disagreement over an injury. It ended with Williams getting suspended for two weeks and eventually being waived. You can read more about that saga here.

So obviously the big question is: How healthy is Williams? If he has bone spurs in his ankle, there’s even a chance he could fail his physical, which will presumably happen Wednesday either in Chicago or in Cleveland (with the Bears playing the Browns Thursday, Williams could theoretically just stay in Cleveland).

This could potentially be a nice move for the Bears though. Williams is still only 25 and is a restricted free agent after the season, so he might not even be a one-year rental. He comes cheap too, so he’s worth the injury risk.

To make room for Williams, the Bears waived cornerback Kevin Peterson, an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State.

5. Despite breaking his leg, expect Connor Shaw to stick with the Bears. The team officially placed the quarterback on injured reserve Tuesday, one day after John Fox said, “I think he has a bright future here.”

It was obvious Shaw had impressed the Bears during training camp. They actually like(d) David Fales, and Shaw passed Fales on the depth chart before the unfortunate injury over the weekend.

Shaw will be done for the season, but will be back next year with a chance to be the Bears’ backup.

With Thursday’s preseason finale looming, we’ll end this week’s “10 Bears Things” with five players to watch closely against the Browns:

6. QB David Fales

Before Shaw’s injury, Fales appeared to be the odd man out, but he’s still eligible for the practice squad and the Bears have promoted him to the 53-man roster twice in the past to prevent him from signing with other teams. That tells you this regime at least once had high hopes for Fales, but that love affair appears to have cooled. Fales should play the majority of Thursday night’s game — if not all of it — and it will be a good opportunity for him after not seeing the field in the last two games.

The guess here is that Fales is destined for a practice squad, either in Chicago or somewhere else. Remember, he was a Phil Emery draft pick and is now in his third year. He might decide to move on even if the Bears want to keep him around.

7. DE Ego Ferguson

It’s possible Thursday’s game is Ferguson’s last with the Bears. The former second-round pick appears to have fallen behind on the depth chart. Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Mitch Unrein and Jonathan Bullard are locks to make the team. That likely leaves two spots for Ferguson, Will Sutton, Cornelius Washington or Terry Williams. Sutton and Washington are probably the favorites from that group, as Williams has practice squad eligibility. Based on that thinking, Ferguson would be the odd man out. Thursday night might be his last chance to impress.

8. OLB Leonard Floyd

Should the No. 9 overall pick play Thursday? I think he should. Floyd was held out against the Chiefs even though he was in uniform, and he needs the reps.

9. ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

The forgotten man from the Bears’ nine-man draft class, Kwiatkoski finally returned to practice this week after a significant hamstring injury early in training camp. Let’s not forget that the Bears’ traded up to grab this kid in the fourth round.

“Truth be told, we (haven’t seen) a whole lot of him,” Fox said Monday. “Obviously, we evaluated him on his college tape. Saw him in some of the offseason stuff … He’s been with us, but as far as our true evaluation, it’s a little bit of a leap of faith.”

It’s a tricky situation because the Bears obviously aren’t going to cut a fourth-round pick, but they don’t really know if he can play yet. It’s actually still unclear if Kwiatkoski will be able to play Thursday night, but if he is, the Bears have to get a good look at him.

10. All the wide receivers.

It will be fascinating to see how this position group plays out in the coming days. Is Eddie Royal in trouble? Can Josh Bellamy contribute enough on offense to justify his special teams spot? Will B.J. Daniels take the return job away from Deonte Thompson, who is hurt, or is Daniels just filling in? What about Daniel Braverman?

“That’s probably one of the deepest positions on the team,” Fox said. “We still have Marquess (Wilson) as well, who is on the PUP list. It’s very competitive, one of our more competitive positions.”

Marc Mariani appears safe and Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White aren’t going anywhere, so that leaves either two or three spots available, depending on how the special teams jobs are handed out. And let’s not forget Cameron Meredith was the one receiver who actually played well against the Chiefs.

“It’s so tough. We’ve got lot of guys who can play,” Royal said Tuesday. “This is one of the most talented groups I’ve ever been around.”

He might be overselling it a little bit, but it is one of the Bears’ deeper position groups, and that’s why I’ve been of the thinking that Royal’s job might be in jeopardy, especially because his availability has been an issue. That said, I’m guessing the Bears keep him now. Royal was cleared from the concussion protocol this week and if they were going to release him, it would have made sense to do it before the 75-man cutdown because Royal probably won’t play Thursday night anyway.

“Just from top to bottom, these guys can play,” Royal said. “You can see it out there with these practices and the few preseason games that we’ve had. The guys are out there making plays, so there’s going to be some tough decisions to make because everybody in our room can play.”

Thus, it will be interesting to see which wide receivers play Thursday night, which don’t, and which play well. This is one of the few spots where a job might actually be won or lost in the preseason finale.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.