Rozner: Bears' depth, coaching tested again

  • Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller talks with injured teammate Charles Tillman during Sunday's 38-17 loss to Green Bay at Soldier Field. Tillman's season-ending injury -- like all NFL injuries -- has had a trickle-down effect on the roster.

      Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller talks with injured teammate Charles Tillman during Sunday's 38-17 loss to Green Bay at Soldier Field. Tillman's season-ending injury -- like all NFL injuries -- has had a trickle-down effect on the roster. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Updated 9/29/2014 8:41 PM

In this version of the NFL, you're extremely lucky if your football team has somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 legitimate starters among the 22 charged with making crucial plays and winning games.

When injuries pile up, the rest of the 53 begin to fill in and depth is challenged.


But no team has close to 53 NFL players, not at a time when athletes are choosing less violent sports and expansion has diluted the product.

Which brings us to the Bears and their current state of adding players to the roster every week, sometimes playing guys in critical situations who have been with the club for only three or four days.

That's already happened this season -- in the win over the Jets -- and it's likely to happen again, just as it happens throughout the league to every team.

Yes, the Bears have been hit hard by injuries, but so have numerous other teams. So then it becomes a matter of coaches coaching and talent evaluators being able to evaluate.

Take the case of Isaiah Frey, who was one of the Bears' final cuts near the end of August but returned after Week 2 when Charles Tillman tore his triceps again and was declared out for the season.

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The Bears didn't lose anything at the corner position with rookie Kyle Fuller able to step in and take Tillman's starting spot. Tillman didn't have much left anyway and Fuller looks like he has a chance to be a star.

Where the loss of Tillman hurts, however, is Fuller leaving his nickel spot, where he was playing well, and moving to the corner. Frey, who was on the street, is suddenly back in the nickel where he played 16 games a year ago.

But the Bears cut him even though he was Phil Emery's sixth-round pick in 2012. Now he's back, and Sunday he had a tough time against the Packers.

With the Bears ahead 17-14 late in the first half, on a third-and-7 from the Chicago 22, Randall Cobb was singled on Frey and gave a slight fake inside before blazing past Frey untouched and running straight for the end zone, where Aaron Rodgers used the two steps Cobb had on Frey and floated a nice pass over Frey for the go-ahead touchdown.


It was 21-17 Green Bay, and that's the last time the Bears would lead Sunday.

Even though Tillman isn't great anymore, the Bears with Tillman at corner and Fuller at nickel were a better team, but this is what happens when you have injuries. You wind up playing a guy like Frey, who was decent last season but not on par with Fuller.

Similarly, with Jared Allen out Sunday, Willie Young starts and the Bears rotate Young, Lamarr Houston and Trevor Scott at defensive end instead of Allen, Houston and Young.

Would it have made much difference considering Allen has been ineffective so far this season? Maybe not, but Allen also has a history of getting to Rodgers, something the Bears didn't do at all Sunday.

And while they continue to search for someone to play third wide receiver, hoping Jay Cutler finds chemistry with one of them and awaiting the return of Marquess Wilson, Josh Morgan started for the second time in four weeks -- Santonio Holmes started against the Niners and Jets -- and was targeted four times Sunday with 3 grabs for 24 yards.

Morgan's initial catch was on first-and-goal from the 10 with the score 7-7 late in the first quarter. It was a quick hitter outside on the 10, and Morgan was knocked out at the 1-yard line by Morgan Burnett, even though Morgan was running downhill and Burnett was coming slowly on a poor angle.

Five plays and a penalty on each team ensued, before the Bears were forced to kick a field goal against a team that would score at will against the Bears' defense.

Down 24-17 middle of the third and driving for the tying score, on first-and-10 from the Green Bay 24, Cutler tried to hit Morgan on a quick slant, but Morgan did not get position on corner Tramon Williams, who jumped inside and deflected the pass to Clay Matthews for an interception.

It was a bad throw and read by Cutler, but an even worse route by Morgan, who hardly fought for ground or the ball once it was in the air.

Does a bigger receiver get to that ball? Does someone with whom Cutler has a better understanding make the play?

Fair questions.

Cutler would throw another pick on the next possession because of a miscommunication with Brandon Marshall, and the Bears would not get as far as the Green Bay 24 again until the final play of the game, when the contest had long since been decided.

Injuries are an issue every day in the NFL, and teams that survive do so with great player evaluation and player development, which means the front office must acquire quality players and the coaching staff must develop them.

If the Bears are to win 10 games and make the playoffs this season, they're going to have to get considerably better at both.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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