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Akiem Hicks' Absence Jeopardizes Defense

The Bears were without defensive end Akiem Hicks for two straight days due to what the team called a knee injury and illness, and it comes just as they finally looked to be getting their entire defensive line back together to face Cleveland's strong rushing tandem.

Just when they thought they might have the chance to put their defensive front together intact for the first time this season as nose tackle Eddie Goldman continues to practice and Mario Edwards' returns from a suspension, Hicks' availability is now in question.

The reason it's big now is because the Bears are easily facing the best offense they've seen at running the ball, with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt getting carries in a balanced Cleveland Browns attack.

"Everyone says it starts with the two-headed monster in the backfield with Chubb and Hunt," Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. "Chubb doesn't ever seem to go down with one hit, and Hunt is a very versatile back."

They'll need all hands on deck. They've faced two different style running teams in the Rams with the outside zone run and last week the load back style Cincinnati used with Joe Mixon. 

Now it's a two-back tandem as good as any in the league.  The Browns have 309 yards rushing, with 178 coming from Chubb and 84 from Hunt.

At least they'll know they've been tested by about anything on the ground through three weeks.

"I guess it makes you tougher over the course of the season," defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. "The value is that it's gonna test us, test our toughness and our will, our resilience. That's all good. It's going to pay off at some point you know, we won't know when but it's going to pay off and it's going to make us all better and we've got to rise to those challenges.

"Because that's this league and it's every week you're going to have a playmaker that you're facing on the other side and our cards have been dealt to us where we've got these guys right now and so we'll accept that challenge and we're looking forward to it."

It would just be good if they could look forward to it with all hands on deck as they had hoped.

There has been no explanation about Hicks' absences the last two days but coach Matt Nagy didn't talk to the media on Thursday as he had a special Wednesday availability due to the announcement about Justin Fields starting.

Goldman has practiced two straight days on a limited basis, which is the first time he's done it since the knee injury.

If they are able to pull the full line together, Goldman's presence for the first time since 2019 would be vital.

"Since I got here all I've heard is good things about Eddie G; him taking on double and triple teams and still knocking the back in the backfield," said Quinn, who hasn't yet had the chance to play on a defensive front with Goldman. "You put up the whole line. Are you going to double team Khalil (Mack)? Eddie? Bilal (Nichols)? Akiem? Me? You've got to pick your poison."

The effect of stopping the run would be huge.

"Just from that standpoint alone, and Eddie from what I see can handle the run by himself, and that creates longer down and distances," Quinn said. "So I think it's just overall going to be a great thing for the team.

"I'm a newer guy here and all I heard was good things, so I'm just ready to see him get active out there."

The Bears have given up 30 fewer rushing yards a game with Hicks and Goldman in the lineup since 2018. So far this year, even without having Goldman they rank fifth at stopping the run, and allowed 74 and 69 yards rushing.

The Bears have a few other injury issues that have popped up.

Safety Tashaun Gipson did not practice Thursday due to a hamstring injury after being limited on Wednesday. He would be replaced in the starting lineup by either Deon Bush or DeAndre Houston-Carson if unavailable.

Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu has a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday but he returned on Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney practiced on a limited basis with a groin injury. He had done so on Wednesday, as well.

For Cleveland, running back/receiver Demetric Felton was limited with a hip injury on Thursday. The Browns added linebacker Tony Fields II (illness) to the list of players who could not practice.

Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard (triceps), linebacker Sione Takitaki (hamstring), center J.C. Tretter (knee) and tackle Jedrick Wills (ankle) didn't practice for the second straight day.

Guard Joel Bitonio (back), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (knee), tackle Jack Conklin (knee), linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee) were limited.

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