Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber did not practice at all this week due to a calf injury suffered last week against the Seahawks. He's officially listed as doubtful and is not expected to play this weekend.
"It's not looking real good," said coach Lovie Smith after today's practice.
Barber has served as the team's starting running back since Matt Forte went down with a sprained MCL in Week 15. Since then, he's averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and was outrushed last week by Kahlil Bell. Barber still serves well as a short-yardage runner but it's becoming clear that Bell is the better all-around tailback.
Bell picked up 108 total yards last week and scored his first NFL touchdown. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and showed well as a pass blocker. He'll carry the load this weekend with Barber out. Chicago has rushed the ball 71 times the past two games – 35.5 per game. With Josh McCown taking over under center this week, expect the Bears to again lean heavily on the run, meaning Bell will likely be given the heaviest single-game workload of his three-year career.
A former undrafted rookie out of UCLA, Bell becomes a free agent after this season. The next two games will be his opportunity to prove he deserves to be re-signed to a long-term contract this offseason.
Bowman will start at cornerback
ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright first reported that Zack Bowman will replace Tim Jennings as the starter at cornerback against the Packers. Jennings said the team informed him earlier this week of the demotion.
Jennings allowed Seahawks wide receiver Ben Obomanu to beat him deep on a 43-yard completion early in the first half of last Sunday's contest. The completion led to the game-tying touchdown for Seattle. For the season, Jennings has been very inconsistent in man coverage and has given up a number of big plays.
Bowman is a better cover cornerback than his teammate, which is one of the main reasons Chicago made the switch. Facing Green Bay's outstanding receiving corps, Bowman gives the Bears a better chance when they have to match up man-to-man on the outside. D.J. Moore will retain his duties as the team's nickelback, meaning Jennings likely won't see much of the field this Sunday.
"Whenever my number is called, I'll be there," Jennings said. "I can come in as the third corner, fourth corner, however they want me to do it. Whatever they need. I think they're gonna give him a shot, see if they like [Bowman] and go from there."
Bowman led the team in interceptions (6) in 2009 yet struggled when handed the starter's job to begin 2010. He was replaced by Jennings after an especially poor outing against the Packers in Week 3 last season. He has since served mainly on special teams, yet has rotated with Jennings some the past month. Now will be one of Bowman's last opportunities to show Chicago's coaching staff he can handle full-time duties. He is not the best tackler, so the key for him will be his effectiveness in supporting the run.
LB Lance Briggs (ankle), WR Devin Hester (ankle) and DT Henry Melton (shin) are all listed as questionable. Coach Smith did not sound hopeful for Hester, yet it wouldn't be surprising if Chicago activates him, using him sparingly as a punt returner.
Briggs and Melton are likely to play. Chicago's defensive line was without Melton last week and could muster just one sack on Seattle QB Tavaris Jackson. Melton's 7.0 sacks are the most on the team, and third most in the league, amongst defensive tackles. Before the injury he had picked up a sack in three straight contents. His presence inside will be crucial in getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers this Sunday.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.