Pro Bowl Player
Joined: April 19th, 2005, 2:10 pm
Azumah suffers first serious Bears injury
Corner/kick returner sent to Denver for a second opinion on hip
By Mark Johnson
Herald Sports Writer
BOURBONNAIS ? The Chicago Bears had been pleased with their relative lack of injuries as training camp at Olivet Nazarene University passed the one-week mark on Sunday.
But cornerback and kick returner Jerry Azumah was held out of Monday?s practice sessions because of hip soreness, and the news on his condition grew worse on Tuesday, when he was noticeably absent from the practice fields.
?We sent Jerry Azumah to Denver to get a second opinion,? Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ?We let him rest at first to see if that would take care of it. It didn?t, so (team consulting orthopedist) Mark Bowen suggested that we let him see the top guy in the country, so we sent him out there. He?s there right now.?
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Bears coaching staff was as much in the dark about the true nature of the injury as anyone.
?We should know more about it a little bit later on, hopefully tonight, and really kind of see from there,? Smith said. ?I?d like to tell you more about the injury right now. I just know that he has soreness in his hip, and it wasn?t getting better, so we sent him out with that.?
A prolonged amount of time without Azumah would be devastating both to Chicago?s defense and its special teams. He is a three-year starter at corner for the Bears and made 56 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and also had four interceptions in 2004.
In 2003, Azumah emerged as a kick returner. He led the NFL in kickoff return average (29.0) and kickoff return touchdowns (2) to earn his first Pro Bowl selection. He returned 42 kickoffs for 924 yards (22.0 average) last season.
?We?re concerned. Jerry Azumah?s a Pro Bowl player, so we need him out there, of course, as quick as we can,? Smith said.
The exact time that Azumah suffered his injury seems to be a mystery to everyone involved, Smith included.
?(It is) something that?s been there for a while. You know, there wasn?t one incident that caused it to happen, just long-term, for whatever that?s worth,? Smith said.
?He?s had soreness throughout, but it?s hard to say exactly when. We?re trying to figure that out right now.?
Third-year Bear Charles Tillman and second-year corner Nathan Vasher have established themselves as players the Bears can count on at the position. But without Azumah, spots in the team?s nickel and dime defenses are up for contention.
?We?re pleased with what some of our young corners have been able to do,? Smith said. ?Jerrell Pippens, of course Rashid Davis ? both are making progress. Of course, we talk about Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher ? we know what they can do. But we need some of our younger players to step up at that position.?
Tillman, who made his way into the Bears? starting lineup during his rookie year of 2003, was impressed with the progress several of the young defensive backs have made.
?Todd (McMillon) and Rashid and Nathan are doing a good job,? Tillman said.
More names were mentioned when Smith was asked who might shoulder the load at kick returner.
?Well, we have looked at Nathan Vasher,? he said. ?Mark Bradley?s been able to do it. Bobby Wade, Bernard Berrian ? we?ll look at those guys right now.?
Veteran?s Day: Bears veterans Ruben Brown, Olin Kreutz and Muhsin Muhammad were among the players that did not participate in Tuesday afternoon?s practice session.
All were sore as camp reached its ninth day, but Smith said that veteran players being held out of practice for no serious reason is nothing new.
?It?s kind of Veteran?s Day for us today, I guess you could say. We have really two Veterans? Day in a year,? Smith said. ?Olin, Ruben, Moose were able to take off today, but nothing real serious on them more than a day of rest, so they should be back out on the field tomorrow.?
Tillman was also kept on the sidelines Tuesday, as he had suffered a very minor leg injury during Monday?s evening practice.
?I?m practicing tomorrow,? he said. ?It?s more the quad than the knee.?
Though he insisted he would be back on the field as soon as possible, Tillman admitted that having to miss drills Tuesday had its positive side.
?It?s nice to get a day off. I like ?em, but you can?t take too many,? he said.
Hustle pays dividends: The Bears ended practice Tuesday about 20 minutes earlier than they were scheduled to because of the attitude and hustle the players that participated brought to the field.
?After a week of practice, there are a few days when, as coaches, you realize that you?re going to have to earn our money and really get ?em going, but they came out ready to go, and we shortened practice a little bit based on the type of effort we were getting,? Smith said.
?It?s starting to heat up a little bit, so it was good to get a good sweat in today.?
Smith was especially impressed with the work his defense put in Tuesday.
?I thought the defense had an outstanding day today,? he said. ?(Outside linebacker) Hunter Hillenmeyer made some good plays. I thought the defensive line really came off the ball. So we?re making progress there.?
The players seem just as pleased with what has been accomplished thus far.
?We?re pretty excited,? Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ?There?s a lot of guys making plays right now. Every day, someone new is stepping up, making a play, but I feel good about it. We?re still healthy for the most part.?
Injury update: Defensive tackle Tank Johnson joined Azumah and Tillman among the players not participating in drills Tuesday because of an injury.
?Tank has a lower leg problem also,? Smith said. ?Not necessarily hamstring, but there?s some type of soreness that he had. He finished practice last night with it. Really, this is kind of over a week, a lot of guys start to get a little soreness right now. We?re just really kind of resting some of them.?
Reserve linebacker Leon Joe also missed practice Tuesday afternoon, but Smith said his injury was only as serious as Johnson?s.
?Leon Joe, same thing. Back, more back with him,? Smith said. ?We don?t think it?s anything serious but, right now, he?s a little tight.?
On a positive note, rookie wide receiver Mark Bradley was back in practice after appearing to get hurt Monday evening. During passing drills, Bradley was taken off the field as a precautionary measure after landing awkwardly during the final play of practice and laying on the field for several minutes.
?You saw Mark Bradley back out there today,? Smith said. ?It was a little scare incident that happened last night, but no damage done with him.?