The Chicago Bears will open their 2017 regular season against the Atlanta Falcons at home this weekend, but their squad is not going to be up to full strength, with a number of their preferred starters still on the injury list.  The Falcons are the current favorites and will remain that way as we head into the game this weekend. The team that spectacularly fell apart at the end of the Super Bowl last year has been improved in the off season, and they look like they could be Super Bowl challengers again this year.So, what can the Bears do without their best players? There are a few options that the team will be able to play, and these are the most likely replacements to be on the field for their difficult opening game.

Kyle Long Injury – Guard

Long had a difficult 2016 season, suffering from multiple injuries that had him placed on the injured reserve by mid-November. At the start of the season he was playing with an injured left shoulder for seven games, he strained a triceps before Week 8, and he finally suffered a severe ankle injury in Week 10 that took him out of the Bears’ game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although there was optimism that Long would be back for the pre-season games, he hasn’t participated at all, and now it’s unsure that he’ll be ready for the regular season. Coach John Fox has told the media that he wants all injured players to be ready for the first game this weekend, but it doesn’t seem likely at this time.To replace Kyle Long in the left guard there are two potential options. Tom Compton played in left guard early in the pre-season, being taken out of his comfort zone in tackle. Cody Whitehair is another option that they have run in the pre-season, so either of these players could be used in the likely event that Long is not ready this weekend.

Markus Wheaton – Wide Receiver

Wide Receiver Markus Wheaton broke a finger in a practice session that will now take him out of action for at least two weeks. At the earliest, he’ll be back by Week 2, but it may not be until the following week in the worst case scenario. The team have Kevin White and Kendall Wright in their receiver lineup, and they have the option to play Deonte Thompson. In the pre-season, Thompson has been particularly impressive, and having signed a new contract for this year, this could be his best opportunity to prove his value from the very first game of the season.

Danny Trevathan – Inside Linebacker

It’s almost guaranteed that Kyle Long and Markus Wheaton won’t be playing in the first game against the Falcons. However, with Danny Trevathan, there’s a little more optimism that he might make the first game. Trevathan has been present at team drills, and he seems to be healing well from surgery that repaired a right knee injury. If Trevathan does play in the weekend, then it’s likely that the team will limit his play time to limit any strain on his previous injury. They have the option to use Nick Kwiatkoski as his replacement in linebacker. Kwiatkoski has shown improvement in the pre-season and is emerging as a strong tackler. If Trevathan is not ready to return, then Kwiatkoski will have a chance to show how much he has improved since being selected in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Prince Amukamara – Cornerback

Prince has a history of injuries in the NFL, and the Bears made a risky decision to sign him to add more stability to the defensive backfield. As many might have guessed, Amukamara was involved in an incident in Week 3 of the pre-season where he rolled his ankle in the Bears game against the Titans. Following an MRI to assess the damage, it is still not known whether Prince will be ready to take to the field.Amukamara is arguably the best cornerback that this team has, which is why it’s understandable that the team took such a risk on an injury-prone player. They’ll be doing everything they can to have him play against the Falcons, especially considering that they’ll need all of their best defenders if they want any chance of containing the threat of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. If Amukamara won’t be ready to play, then Kyle Fuller could step in. The downside is that Fuller hasn’t shown much promise in the pre-season.

Pernell McPhee – Outside Linebacker

There are simply too many top tier players on this injured list, but at least there’s some hope with Pernell McPhee. He was present for practice this week, and the initial signs are promising. Following five weeks on the PUP list, McPhee now looks ready to return. Coach John Fox told the media after a training session on Monday, that “I’d say he’s probably – in the words of our orthopedic, our trainer, our strength and conditioning coach Jason George – probably in the best shape he’s ever been in. So we felt very confident just watching him move around today. We felt good about that.”If the optimism for McPhee turns out to be unfounded, then the team will be able to rely on Willie Young, who shared most of the snaps with McPhee in the 2016 – 17 season.

A Difficult Weekend Ahead

Even if the Bears were at full strength, taking on the Atlanta Falcons in the first week was always going to be a major challenge. Although the Bears are clearly not favorites heading into Week 1, we can at least use the upcoming weekend as a good reference point to see how much the Bears have progressed since last year. Fans can also take comfort from the fact that the team will only get better as their preferred starters return from the injury list.

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