By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — As they try to build a winning team, John Fox and his Bears coaching staff preach availability.

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Injuries have hampered those hopes for far too many players on this football team. With that, Fox has preached the next-man-up philosophy. Such is the challenge in coaching a team that’s been battered by the injury bug.

But then there’s the availability that Fox can control — which led to the decision of making rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard inactive for Sunday’s win over the 49ers, a game that could’ve offered valuable reps. Instead, veterans Mitch Unrein and Cornelius Washington saw added playing time.

Fox made Bullard a healthy scratch.

“There’s a variety of ways to motivate young people,” Fox said Monday of Bullard’s scratch. “He’s a player that we do like, that we’re trying to bring the best out of him like we do all our players. He gets to practice all week just like the other players, then how they perform in practice sometimes is reflective on what kind of opportunities they get in the game, so they have to earn it.”

In speaking to reporters Monday at Halas Hall, Fox was protecting his player, but this was the head coach sending a message to the third-round pick of this past April’s draft.

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The Bears picked Bullard out of Florida with the hopes that he could be an instant impact player for their young defense. Bullard has played in 10 games this season, recording just 14 tackles and a sack. Coming out of the draft, many experts viewed him as a steal. Pro Football Focus slated him as the top Day 2 pick.

Fox referred to Bullard’s struggles as “growing pains” after Sunday’s game. On Monday, he referred to the need for motivation.

“He’s adjusting,” Fox said. “I think he’s doing a good job, it’s not like it’s been all bad, but we just felt like the style of game it was going to be yesterday that we had other guys we were going to lean on.”

Four more games remain for the Bears, who moved to 3-9 with the 26-6 win over the 49ers. Up next are the first-place Lions, who mathematically eliminated the Bears on Sunday.

First comes an important week of preparation, in which Fox hopes to see Bullard step up his game.

“It’s like anybody, from adversity they respond,” Fox said. “… We want guys to prove us wrong.”

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Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.