LONDON — We know the Bears will be down at least two starters on offense and no less than one on defense Sunday, but don’t be surprised if the Oakland Raiders are in every bit as bad of shape — and possibly even worse.
For starters, Akiem Hicks (knee) got in his first practice of the week Friday, while Kyle Long (hip) went from limited on Wednesday and Thursday to full go. Hicks will be a game-time decision, and Long was removed from the report altogether and declared that he’s playing.
Sure, the Bears still won’t have Bilal Nichols, who’s set to miss his fourth consecutive game with a broken hand, or Taylor Gabriel, who didn’t make the overseas flight because of a concussion, but Chicago’s health suddenly appears trending upward.
And while the Bears were managing the Roquan Smith saga all week, the Raiders were doing their own damage control following the season-long suspension of the dirtiest player in football, Vontaze Burfict. Despite being a repeat offender, the Raiders were comfortable signing him this offseason and quickly making him a defensive captain and every-down starter.
So as Oakland adjusts to his abrupt absence — Burfict flew to London with the team Sunday, only to learn of the suspension and return home one day later — the Bears appear likely to welcome back Smith, who was full go on the practice field for a second consecutive day, with his presence perhaps looming larger than ever.
The Raiders just completed their third consecutive practice in London without No. 1 WR Tyrell Williams, who is listed as questionable with a hip injury. Williams has scored a touchdown in each of his first four games as a Raider, or one fewer than the entire Bears offense combined.
Additionally, WR3 J.J. Nelson sat out Friday’s session and was listed as questionable. If the two veterans are out or even limited Sunday, it would make Derek Carr’s top receivers journeyman Ryan Grant and rookies Hunter Renfrow and Keelan Doss.
Which brings us back to Smith, the Bears’ best coverage linebacker and likely key elixir against Carr’s No. 1 weapon, TE Darren Waller, the “Hard Knocks” star whose 33 receptions pace all NFL tight ends and his 320 receiving yards trail only stars Travis Kelce and Evan Engram.
Even at full strength, facing this Bears ‘D’ is daunting for any offense. And Raiders’ depth concerns aren’t limited to the skill positions, either.
Top pick Clelin Ferrell, the No. 4 overall selection basically drafted to replace Khalil Mack, missed every practice this week in concussion protocol and earned a questionable tag. It’s worth noting the Bears held back from the trip Gabriel, who is also in the concussion protocol.
So Chase Daniel likely won’t see the most talented edge rusher on an Oakland ‘D’ with major issues concocting pressure (five sacks in four games).
Oakland also listed former Pro Bowl LG Richie Incognito (back) as questionable after he popped up on the report in limited fashion Thursday and was downgraded to out Friday. Remember, the Raiders are already missing their best guard, Gabe Jackson, who has been out since the preseason.
After watching what the Bears’ front without Hicks and Smith did to Minnesota last week, Jon Gruden’s Raiders assuredly are concerned with how they’ll protect Carr on Sunday.