The Bears open the season hosting the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field. Both teams have had considerable makeovers in the off-season, and are looking to quickly challenge for respectability in the NFC North, which has been dominated by the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings for roughly the past 15 years. The Lions have been a very poor road team (24 consecutive losses), and the Bears were 6-2 at home last season. Let's take a closer look at the injuries and their impact on this game.
Former Bear Head Coach Dick Jauron is the Defensive Coordinator of the Lions. He won't recognize the team he coaches against on Sunday. The Bears will have new starters on offense at 2 line positions and 2 backfield positions that weren't on last season's roster. The Lions' secondary is banged up. Free safety Brian Walker (knee) is out for the season. Brock Marion suffered a bone bruise on his knee last week that was severe enough to require an MRI. He's expected to start at free safety, with Bracy Walker manning the strong safety position. Weakside linebackers James Davis and Alex Lewis have been hindered by ankle injuries, while Boss Bailey is out with a serious knee injury on the strong side. He'll likely be replaced by Donte Curry. It wouldn't be surprising to see rookie Teddy Lehman utilized in some fashion among this group.
Terry Shea will direct a new look Bears offense that is definitely the healthiest of the Bears' units. He's hoping tight end Desmond Clark has put the hamstring problems that kept him out of all but the last preseason game behind him. Tight ends Clark, Dustin Lyman, and John Gilmore have all spent considerable time in the training room this preseason, and it's the tight end position along with the running backs that will play a major role in the passing game under Shea. Backup running back Anthony Thomas was held out of most of camp with an injured oblique muscle, but has returned to practice for over a week. If he cannot play, Adrian Peterson will spell starter Thomas Jones at halfback as needed.
If the Bears truly plan to throw to their running backs and tight ends as a main staple of their passing offense, the Lions are the perfect team in the perfect scenario for them to play. Their linebackers and safeties have been decimated by injuries. Look for Jauron to do his best to minimize these deficiencies, especially by run blitzing the linebackers to both bottle up the run and to put pressure on the quarterback.
The Bears' secondary is also banged up, but their issues are at cornerback instead of safety. Starter Jerry Azumah is out after neck surgery, and his first replacement R.W. McQuarters is questionable with a pulled hamstring. If McQuarters cannot play, rookie Nathan Vasher or special teams ace and sub package defender Todd McMillon will see action. In sub packages, strong safety Mike Green is likely to move to nickel back as the Bears will probably deploy an additional safety instead of an additional cornerback. Azumah's injury also compromises the Bears' special teams (Azumah was a Pro Bowler as a kickoff returner last season).
At linebacker, Brian Urlacher missed the entire preseason with a pulled hamstring, but has been practicing for over a week. His injury status may be upgraded by Sunday. Strong side linebacker Marcus Reese has been out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury and has been replaced by Joe Odom. Odom and Reese were in a tight battle for that position before the injury occurred. Odom has a sore calf, but is expected to play.
The Lions are relatively healthy on offense. With the Bears' cornerbacks ranks depleted, the Lions are expected to work their young receivers (Charles Rogers and Roy Williams) along with the speedy Az-Zahir Hakim to bring mismatches that Joey Harrington can exploit. Heavy doses of fullback Cory Schlesinger worked well against Urlacher in the past. With him and Odom banged up, it wouldn't be surprising to see them tested by the powerful fullback.