One of the defenders expected to lead what was supposed to be a fearsome pass rush will be out for the rest of the year.
Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune reports outside linebacker/edge rusher/defensive end Willie Young will miss the rest of the season with a triceps injury that will require surgery and make him the third defensive starter to be placed on injured reserve in 2017. Young joins inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (torn pectoral muscle) and safety Quintin Demps (broken arm) as starting defensive players who will miss the rest of the year due to injury. It’s the latest blow to a defense that looked to be improved heading into 2017, but has produced inconsistent results.
Young had 7.5 sacks in 2016 and led the team with 10 back in 2014, so replacing his production and upside doesn’t figure to be an easy task. The Bears’ only healthy edge defenders right now are Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, and Sam Acho. That trio has combined to pick up three sacks in four games. They will need to be more productive if the Bears are to be competitive and hang tough with the rest of their schedule.
McPhee could get the starts in place of Young and might be in line for an increase in playing time. The 29-year-old hasn’t missed a regular season game, but has played on just 35.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. For what it’s worth, McPhee has seen his snap counts go up after each week. McPhee played just four snaps in the season-opener, but that number rose to 24 in Week 2, then 27 in Week 3, and 34 in Week 4.
Even though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hinted at McPhee being just a part-time player at this stage of his career, it could be a role that serves him well for the remainder of the season. McPhee has played just 89 snaps in four games, but 55.1 percent have come in pass rushing situations.
The 2017 season hasn’t been a kind one for the health of Bears edge defenders. McPhee spent the preseason on the physically unable to perform list because of an irregularity in his knee. The team parted ways with a depth piece before the season when the team left Lamarr Houston off the season-opening 53-man roster after he was injured in the team’s final preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
The group could get a boost from an internal promotion, whether it’s promoting undrafted free agent rookie Isaiah Irving, who spent training camp with the Bears, or recently signed free agent Howard Jones from the practice squad.
All things considered, Week 5 would be a good time for Floyd to have his first break-out performance of 2017.