March 23, 2017 Cloudy, 32°F

Injury bug nibbles on Bears

BOURBONNAIS – Henry Melton was in a lousy mood after practice Monday.

For that matter, the Bears’ fifth-year defensive lineman was in a lousy mood during practice, too. You probably would feel the same way if you watched one of your favorite co-workers go down because of an injury.

“I was pretty much thinking about it the whole practice,” Melton said.

After touring various NFL training camps, The Injury Bug paid a visit to practice field No. 3 at Olivet Nazarene University. For an appetizer, he nibbled on the right calf of prized left tackle Jermon Bushrod. For the main course, he opened wide and took a menacing bite out veteran defensive lineman Turk McBride.

Achilles' tendon: Ruptured. McBride’s season: Finished.

Mmmm, says The Bug.

Burrrp, goes The Bug.

Zzzzz, snores The Bug.

If we have learned anything about The Bug, it’s that he will wake up soon enough. And he will be hungry again.

It’s merely a question of where he will go for his next meal.

Before filling his belly at Bears camp, The Bug feasted at sites across the lower 48. He bit Jeremy Maclin’s ACL. He chewed on Percy Harvin’s labrum. He devoured Dennis Pitta’s hip, leaving the Baltimore Ravens tight end out for the season.

Somehow, the Bears managed to lay low while other teams dealt with big injuries. When camp opened last week at ONU, the storylines were fresh, the temperature was perfect and the team was healthy.

We all knew that wouldn’t last forever.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knew as well as anyone. Tucker is in his 16th season of coaching. He played football, too, as a defensive back at Wisconsin.

I asked Tucker whether he ever had a season without The Injury Bug playing a role.

In a word: No.

“It’s always something,” Tucker said. “They say football is the great game of life.

“It’s like our everyday lives. There’s always something. Adversity. Overcoming adversity. Things like that. That’s what makes it such a great game.

“But injuries are a part of the game.”

Melton and his teammates know this, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier when a colleague steps awkwardly, winces, and crumbles to the turf. You can eat all of the vegetables in the world, you can run all of the trails in the world, you can lift all of the weights in the world, but nothing can eliminate the risk of injury.

Throughout the offseason and the start of training camp, the Bears had been lucky. But injuries are inevitable. They’re as much of a part of football as tight spirals and crunching hits and booming punts and screaming fans.

“Something’s going to happen,” Melton said. “That’s just how the game is.

“It’s physical. It’s a grind. And sometimes your body just can’t take it.”

On Monday, McBride’s body couldn’t take it.

He arrived to the field ready to work. He was carted off of the field unable to walk.

“We said a prayer for him after it happened,” Melton said. “And then you’ve got to look to the next guy to step up.”

Somewhere, The Bug is licking his lips.

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