By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Heading into Week 12 of the season, no player in the NFL is completely healthy, save for specialists. The Bears’ injury report from Thursday’s practice reflects the grind of the season.
— DE Jared Allen (veteran’s day off)
— CB Demontre Hurst (knee)
— DE Trevor Scott (knee)
— LB Darryl Sharpton (hamstring)
— WR Chris Williams (hamstring)
— WR Brandon Marshall (ankle)
— WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring)
— RT Jordan Mills (ribs)
— OG Eben Britton (appendectomy)
Marshall and Jeffery are still dealing with the same injuries they suffered in the season opener.
The other injury worth monitoring heading into Sunday’s game against Tampa is Williams’ hamstring injury. Earlier this week, the Bears signed Marc Mariani, who has handled all the returner duties at practice since.
“He’s getting work,” coach Marc Trestman said of Mariani. “And he’ll continue to get work tomorrow. I’ll have a little better feeling after tomorrow’s practice. We’ll see where we are. I’m not gonna say I’m gonna make a commitment at that point in time, but he’ll have another day of work and we’ll see where we are.”
Patience is the key against Lovie’s scheme
While the Bucs are playing more man-to-man defense this season, coach Lovie Smith’s base scheme is still zone-based coverage. The Bucs create a deep coverage shell to prevent explosive plays over the top and attempt to force everything underneath, where they can rally to the football and try to create turnovers.
In turn, offenses are forced to sustain long drives to move the ball down the field without making mistakes on third down or turning the ball over.
This can be a test of patience for both a quarterback and play-caller, to resist the temptation to drive the ball down the field, as that plays into the hands of the coverage. Bears running back Matt Forte said the offense can’t get anxious Sunday.
“It’s going to be hard on everybody, the players and play-calling and coaches, to be patient enough to chunk your way down the field, that’s what the defense is designed to do,” Forte said. “We don’t want to get anxious — you get turnovers that way.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler must be willing to check the ball down if his deep options aren’t open. Additionally, Bears receivers will need to be able to break tackles to gain yardage after the catch while putting a premium on ball security.
The Bucs haven’t fully adopted Smith’s ball-hawking philosophy, but they did force three turnovers in last week’s win against the Redskins. Overall this season, the Bucs have forced 15 turnovers (eight interceptions, seven fumbles), which ranks 16th in the league.
Friends off the field, foes on it
Cutler and Bucs quarterback Josh McCown developed a strong friendship last year during when the latter was the backup in Chicago, but that goodwill will come to an end this Sunday when they square off at Soldier Field.
“We’ve definitely been in contact,” Cutler said. “I’ve been in contact with him all year, definitely wish him well, except for this week. We’ll go at it head-to-head and see what happens.”
Cutler mentioned that McCown’s past experience and journey as a quarterback was helpful as they both learned a new scheme together.
“We were coming into a new system, and he’d been through a lot of different systems like I had,” Cutler said. “We helped each other learn. His journey and as many places as he’s been, he’s been through ups and downs, knew what the position was about and it took to play the position so he could relate really well.”
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.