When the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, they will do so without one of their starting offensive linemen. On Wednesday, the Bears placed right tackle Germain Ifedi on injured reserve, shutting him down for at least the next three weeks and forcing a new starter onto the field.
Ifedi left last week’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders with what was described as a knee injury. However, on Wednesday the Bears described the injury as to his hip flexor. Either way, Ifedi will not play on Sunday, likely giving way to veteran backup Elijah Wilkinson, who filled in against the Raiders after Ifedi’s departure.
Wilkinson, who signed with the Bears this offseason after four seasons with the Denver Broncos, is no stranger to the starting lineup. He started at least seven games in each of the past three seasons, playing both right guard and right tackle. However, he did not play particularly well for Denver. That was especially the case in 2020, when he earned just a 52.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus on nearly 550 snaps.
Although the Bears have reasonably solid veteran guards in Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, suiting up a backup at right tackle should give the Packers — and Rashan Gary in particular — opportunities to collapse the pocket on quarterback Justin Fields. Additionally, center Sam Mustipher has struggled this season, which will give Kenny Clark a tantalizing matchup when he lines up at nose tackle.
The Bears now have three offensive tackles on injured reserve, as Ifedi joins rookies Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom on the shelf. Jenkins was a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State and was intended to be the team’s current and future left tackle, but back issues have kept him out to this point, forcing the Bears to sign 39-year-old Jason Peters to man the blind side. Borom, a 5th-round pick out of Missouri, may be considered for a return this week to provide depth, but he would still likely serve as a backup to Wilkinson in that case.
After taking nine sacks in his first start against the Cleveland Browns, Fields was sacked just three times combined in the Bears’ last two games, wins over the Detroit Lions and the Raiders. Those numbers did coincide with Chicago’s change in play-calling, as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over from head coach Matt Nagy two weeks ago.
Additionally, the Packers’ pass rush has been trending upward of late after a quiet start to the season, averaging three sacks and eight quarterback hits over the past three games. A matchup with a backup right tackle could well allow this group to continue improving and may be one key to a Green Bay victory on Sunday.