By Jeff Joniak-

(CBS) The Bears (2-2) face the Panthers (2-2) on the road Sunday. Here’s what is on my mind heading into the matchup.

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First impression

Not again! Jermon Bushrod becomes the fifth Bears starting offensive lineman to deal with an injury or illness since the offseason. His status is up in the air for Sunday’s game in Carolina after an “accidental” knee injury in Wednesday’s practice. Alarms went off when offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said all Chicago can do is “prepare for the worst” should Bushrod miss the game.

The Bears rotated players at left tackle, including Michael Ola. Starting left guard Matt Slauson (ankle) and starting center Roberto Garza (ankle) were limited for the second straight day. Both are pulling their hair out about missing snaps and want to play badly. In the offseason, Slauson and right tackle Jordan Mills had surgeries. Right guard Kyle Long missed the first week of camp with a virus, then Slauson and Garza went down in the opener against Buffalo, and now Bushrod. Hopefully it’s not long-term or serious. Ola and center Brian de la Puente, who also missed some preseason time with a knee injury, have been solid the last three games. However, all these starts and stops are worrisome.

Second thought

I’m not big on player of the week awards, but the NFL defensive rookie of the month given to cornerback Kyle Fuller warrants some praise because simply put, when given the opportunity, he made plays. They were also big plays, including three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Plenty of players are put in a position to succeed by coaches, and when the time comes all they want in return is for the player to make a play, just one. Don’t drop the fourth-quarter interception or miss the sack on a quarterback who slips away only to make a big play of his own in crunch time. Fuller finishes plays, or at least he did in September.

By no means is he a finished product, but I can tell you his commitment to being great is already evident by the work he puts in every day. This rookie prepares like a veteran. He’s quite serious about it, which is great news for the Bears now and in the future.

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Third degree

Since 2008, we’ve enjoyed watching Matt Forte press the hole with explosion, get to the second level and plant his foot hard in the grass and to bust the ankle of those linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties flying into the box out of control only to overpursue. That’s Forte’s move. He owns it.

Last week, we saw the first sustained work out of the backfield by rookie Ka’Deem Carey, and he was impressive. Carey ran hard using his leverage to plow into and over a couple of unsuspecting linebackers. Carey is a north-south runner who finishes his runs. He does have a spin move, which always concerns me with backs. When to use the spin move is really the key. In space, there is less chance of another defender waiting to slam you. On an inside run, there are big guys poised to pancake you.

“I don’t like my spin move,” Carey said. “I think it’s probably the weakest move I have in my arsenal. I’m trying to practice it and use it a little bit more. Coaches really don’t mind too much about it. I spun last week and somebody was waiting in the hole , lifted me up and put me on my back right away. That’s my fault. They laughed at me and said you have to practice your spin move.”

Spin moves at that level of the defense take away Carey’s best asset, which is leverage, thus muting some of his power. Former Chargers great LaDainian Tomlinson had one of the best spin moves I’ve ever seen. You can hear more with Carey in the audio version of Joniak’s Journal at 10:10 a.m. Sunday on NewsRadio 780 and 105.9 FM, WBBM during the Countdown to Kickoff.


Short on backfield weapons this week, the Carolina Panthers are still a dangerous third-down team. For example, they are third in the league converting on four-to-six yards (72.9 percent), including converting eight of nine times by throwing it. The Panthers also have the third-highest number of third-and-6+ conversions with 11, all on throws.

Conversely, they are last in the NFL on third-and-short (fewer than four yards) at 44.4 percent. They have gotten themselves into a league-high high 20 third-and-10+ situations, converting only four.

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Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.