The challenge of covering all-world receiver Julio Jones this Sunday has just become a little bit more daunting.
Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports cornerback Prince Amukamara was the only player on the Bears who didn’t practice on Thursday. And, by the sounds of it, practice isn’t the only thing he will miss, as Finley adds “sounds like he won’t go Sunday.”
Ouch … literally.
Amukamara has been sidelined with an ankle injury he suffered during the team’s preseason Week 3 win against the Tennessee Titans, a game in which he left after the first play from scrimmage. He did not play in the team’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns and has not practiced since. His status could determine the Bears’ plan of action against a high-powered Atlanta Falcons passing offense.
The Falcons had three of the top 19 highest-graded receivers in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. To be sure, Julio Jones leading the way with an elite 96.5 grade and 94.4 receiving grade isn’t breaking news or anything, but the Bears secondary can’t sleep on Taylor Gabriel (83.2) or Mohamed Sanu (83.1).
So what might the active Bears corners need to do if Amukamara isn’t out there with them on Sunday?
"They have to be really, really sound in their technique. They have to come with a mindset to play hard." Fangio on #Bears DB's vs Julio.
— Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) September 7, 2017
Good luck with that.
If Amukamara can’t play, fellow free agent signee Marcus Cooper is most likely to slide over to cover Jones. However, this could lead to a player like Cre’von LeBlanc – who lined up in the slot on 53 percent of his snaps last season – moving to the outside. Luckily, the Bears have a second quality slot corner in Bryce Callahan to line up across from a receiver like Sanu, who posted up in the slot 61 percent of the time in 2016.
Kyle Fuller also figures to play a major role if Amukamara can’t give it a go on Sunday. If Fuller starts in place of Amukamara on Sunday, it will be his first game action since 2015. And that would still represent quite the task for the 25-year-old cornerback who has much to prove in a make or break season.
The Bears spent a ton of cash to upgrade a leaky secondary, and still have healthy players like Quintin Demps (who earned PFF’s 10th best grade among safeties in 2016) and rookie Eddie Jackson roaming in the defensive backfield looking to get their hands on more than three interceptions in 2017.
Still, any blow to the team’s depth among the cornerbacks could reveal the kind of matchup problems you’d hope to avoid, especially in the season opener.