A year after injuries devastated their defense, the Bears have bounced back from an 0-1 start to go 2-1 without numerous starters and with rookies like cornerback Kyle Fuller making critical plays. It happened again Monday night in a 27-19 road victory over the New York Jets.
"That's a credit to our coaches," safety Ryan Mundy said. "We get coached hard day in and day out. And we make sure that everyone is ready to play. And I think that has been evident over the past two weeks. Starting with San Fran (two weeks ago), guys went down, people stepped in and stepped up and the same thing can be said about (Monday night)."
The injury situation became so great late in Monday's game that coach Marc Trestman looked out on the field to see his fourth safety, rookie Brock Vereen, teamed with Ahmad Dixon. They had signed Dixon off the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad less than two weeks earlier.
"Our coaches have done a very good job of getting them ready, and our veteran players have certainly been a part of that preparation, teaching them what it takes to play in this league," Trestman said. "And there's no better way to learn than at 11 at night on Monday night. Sometimes that's where you get your best learning in."
Fuller was supposed to play only in the nickel defense before Charles Tillman's season-ending muscle injury, yet he made his third interception of the season and knocked loose two fumbles Monday after a two-interception game against San Francisco. Rookie defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton rotated in as replacements for veteran Jay Ratliff, and the Bears defense allowed only 114 rushing yards to a Jets team that had been ranked No. 1 in rushing.
Second-year linebacker Jon Bostic led the Bears in tackles with 13, filling in for starter Shea McClellin. Willie Young, the third defensive end who was signed in free agency, recorded his career-best fourth sack of the season.
"These young guys are playing great, and I tell you what, it's a testament to their attitude," defensive end Jared Allen said. "I've been around some entitled rookies before where they think everything should be given to them. I can honestly say we don't have one rookie on our team that thinks he's entitled to anything."
Players credited coaches for a new training camp this season. Backups were frequently brought in on both sides of the ball to work with starters instead of working first-team offense exclusively against first-team defense and second-team offense against second-team defense.
The extra experience seems to have helped, but linebacker Lance Briggs said essentially it's up to the players themselves.
"You just can't panic," he said. "Next guy comes in, you've just got to read your keys and play ball. They're all fighters."
The injury situation is uncertain heading into preparations for Sunday's home game with Green Bay. Safety Chris Conte has a shoulder injury and Mundy suffered a stinger. Both left Monday's game. Third safety Danny McCray was shaken up but returned. Fullback Tony Fiammetta left after aggravating a hamstring injury.
The Bears don't return to practice until Thursday, but the status of all injured players will be updated Wednesday.