By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again be without a full complement of players when they take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 24.
The Steelers announced that starters Marcus Gilbert and T.J. Watt will miss Sunday’s game. This is the third consecutive week that the Steelers will be without at least one starter. Starting left outside linebacker Bud Dupree missed the season-opener and starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed last week’s contest. Tuitt (bicep) is currently questionable for Sunday.
Gilbert has not practiced all week because of a hamstring string injury. The 29-year-old has started every game that he has appeared in at right tackle for the Steelers since 2012, and 77 of 78 games overall. Chris Hubbard is slated to start in place of Gilbert against the Bears. Hubbard, who can play every position on the offensive line, started four games last season.
Watt is out with a groin injury that he suffered last week during the team’s 26-9 victory over Minnesota. Watt had hoped to play this week, however, he sat out practice on Thursday and Friday. The rookie right outside linebacker has been outstanding during the opening two games of the season, collecting nine tackles to go along with two sacks and an interception.
Anthony Chickillo will take over Watt’s starting spot this week. Chickillo has been just as impressive during the first two games as Watt, registering 11 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Arthur Moats and James Harrison will also likely see time at outside linebacker. Harrison, 39, was not on the field during any defensive snap against the Vikings.
Pittsburgh (2-0) shouldn’t have any trouble with Chicago (0-2) despite their injury trouble. The Steelers will probably “miss” Gilbert a little more than Watt due to the fact that they are loaded at linebacker – and the fact that offensive line play is so important. Starting left tackle
J.J. Wilcox and Vance McDonald gets clean bill of health
Reserve safety J.J. Wilcox was cleared to return to practice on Wednesday after being placed in the league’s concussion protocol on the Monday following the Steelers’ opening game against Cleveland. Wilcox, a very hard-hitter, said he will definitely play against the Bears on Sunday, and he is not on the team’s injury report. He will likely fill in at free safety when starter Mike Mitchell is off the field against the Bears.
Backup tight end Vance McDonald also didn’t make this week’s injury list. McDonald sat out the game against Minnesota with a back ailment, but he was a full practice participant all three days this week. The fifth-year pro made his Steelers debut against the Browns, playing 19 offensive snaps and dropped the only pass that came his way in the game. McDonald could see significant playing time if James’ ankle injury flares up.
In the meantime, backup offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins is listed as questionable as he was limited in practice on Friday. Hawkins, who was a full practice participant on Wednesday and Thursday, has been inactive for the first two weeks of the season with a knee injury. The 2016 fourth round selection has yet to play in a regular season game as he was on injured reserve all last season. If he is able to suit up, he could see time in Week 3 with Gilbert out. Feiler can also play both guard positions.
If Hawkins can’t go, the Steelers could be down to five healthy o-linemen with B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler being the lone healthy reserves. Finney is capable of playing guard as well as center. While Feiler can play tackle and guard.
Bears Injury Report
Chicago has three players listed on its Week 3 injury report with inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski the lone player who is out. Kwiatkoski,who is a part-time starter, is dealing with a pectoral injury. He was injured last week against Tampa Bay. Kwiatkoski’s inability to go to against the Steelers is another blow to the Bears’ linebacker depth, as starting right inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season.
A more pressing issue for the Bears is their offensive line. While Kyle Long is expected to make his season debut, starting right guard Josh Sitton and reserve lineman Tom Compton are in danger of missing the game. Sitton (doubtful) has not practiced this week as he suffered a injury to his ribs in Week 2. Compton, who has started the previous two games, is listed as questionable with a hip ailment.
Offensive line play has been a major problem for the Bears through the first two weeks. Quarterback Mike Glennon has been sacked five times and hit on 19 occasions, which does not bode well against a relentless pass rush like the Steelers possess.
Steelers Injury Report
- T Marcus Gilbert: (Hamstring, Illness)
- LB T.J. Watt (Groin)
- DE Stephon Tuitt: (Biceps)
- OT Jerald Hawkins: (Knee)