TAMPA, Fla. – Bears coach Matt Nagy has been particularly tight lipped regarding players being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in recent days.
Whether he wants to talk about it or not, it has become an issue. The Bears have placed five players on the COVID-19 list in the past 10 days. They were without two starters in Sunday’s 38-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Running back Damien Williams went on the COVID-19 list on Oct. 14. Since Williams first went on the list, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey has missed time due to COVID-19 protocols and outside linebacker Robert Quinn, tight end Jimmy Graham, offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson and inside linebacker Caleb Johnson have all gone on the COVID-19 list. Wilkinson and Johnson went on the list Sunday when the team was already in Tampa, Florida.
Williams is the only one who has since come off the list, being activated ahead of Sunday’s game, which he did play in. Furrey has also returned to his coaching duties.
The other four players all missed Sunday’s game. Two of them, Quinn and Wilkinson, were expected to start at their respective positions.
The reserve/COVID-19 list is for players who test positive for the coronavirus and for players who are deemed close contacts to someone who tested positive. The rules vary depending on a player’s vaccination status. Generally speaking, it is much more lenient for players who are vaccinated.
Last year, before the vaccine was available, the team stopped doing in-person meetings midway through the season. They convened only for practice, then went home for virtual meetings.
Nagy said he doesn’t know what the next steps will be for the 2021 Bears, but said they will listen to what the league tells them to do.
“That’s something that we’re going to look into, to make sure that whatever we’re doing, it’s the smartest thing we can do,” Nagy said. “It’s stating the obvious that we’ve had a few [COVID-19 cases] that have come up. So what we need to do is make sure that we’re doing everything we can to be smart, to continue to follow what we follow and what we’ve been doing and listen to what everybody tells us to do, meaning the league.”
It’s not the reason the Bears lost Sunday’s game, but missing Wilkinson and Quinn clearly hurt the team. Wilkinson was already the second-string option at right tackle with Germain Ifedi on injured reserve. They were down to option No. 3 with Lachavious Simmons and, later, option No. 4 when they benched Simmons for Alex Bars.
Wilkinson went on the COVID-19 list just hours before Sunday’s game. Quarterback Justin Fields said he saw Wilkinson watching tape with offensive line coach Juan Castillo at the team hotel and was shocked when he showed up to the stadium and learned Wilkinson wouldn’t be playing.
“I was just surprised,” Fields said. “I was like, ‘Elijah who?’ And then Cole [Kmet] told me that it was [Wilkinson] and I was surprised because I just saw him 45 minutes ago watching film with Coach Juan, figuring he was going to play. So I mean, that’s the life of the NFL.”
Without Quinn, the pass rush lacked the one-two punch it has had with Quinn (5.5 sacks on the season) and Khalil Mack (six sacks). Mack couldn’t do it alone. The Bears recorded just one QB hit.
“It’s just about stepping up,” linebacker Roquan Smith said. “That’s just like when someone gets injured, next man up. It sucks, with guys having it and things of that nature, but everyone just has to protect themselves.”