Already reeling because of a major injury and a contract holdout, the Bears' offensive line was brought to its knees Friday night when first-round draft pick Stan Thomas suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
The injury, which knocked Thomas out in the second quarter of an uninspiring 6-0 Bear victory over the Miami Dolphins in the preseason opener, does not appear as serious as first feared. Still, the rookie tackle could be sidelined for two weeks.
With Jim Covert probably out for the season with a ruptured disc, the Bears are getting desperate at offensive tackle.
"We are going to have to find a tackle somewhere," said coach Mike Ditka. "Anybody know where there is one?"
Ditka said rookie running back Darren Lewis also suffered a sprained left knee.
A pair of 25-yard fields goals by rookie Chris Gardocki-one in the second quarter, the other in the fourth-stood up for the victory in front of 49,939 fans in Joe Robbie Stadium.
The Bears' defense notched two fumble recoveries and an interception. Linebacker Ron Cox had two sacks and the interception. Veteran tackles Steve McMichael and William Perry also recorded sacks.
The Bears allowed the Dolphins to cross midfield only once, in the fourth period, and limited them to 115 net yards, just 25 rushing.
"It might have been the worst football game I have ever seen," Ditka said. "Don (Dolphins coach Shula) feels the same way. Both teams have a long way to go.
"We've played eight quarters (including an intrasquad scrimmage), and we've scored nine points," added a sarcastic Ditka, who is seeking a more effective passing game to complement his running attack. "We are potent. We're blowing them off the ball. Our passing game is precision. It is a piece of art right now."
The Bears were hoping for a break in the contract impasse with veteran tackle Keith Van Horne. Instead, they saw Thomas carted off. Then Lewis, who gained 20 yards on eight carries, hurt his knee in the fourth quarter.
"I don't think it's going to be that bad," Ditka said. "They didn't get that real burning sensation. When you get that, you've torn something. I hope it's two weeks at the most (for Thomas)."
Bears finance director Ted Phillips was busy working the telephone in the press box, trying to lure unsigned veterans Brad Muster, Kevin Butler, Ron Morris, James Thornton and Van Horne into camp.
The team departs for Berlin Sunday afternoon to get ready for an Aug. 3 exhibition against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I think we will have Muster done probably Saturday," said Phillips. "I just got off the phone with him. He will probably be on the plane to Berlin.
"There was a little compromise on both sides. I think it is close enough (on a two-year contract) that we can work it out.
"We are closer on Thornton, and I don't think we are outrageously far apart on any of them," added Phillips, though he said he did not talk to Van Horne's agent.
Friday night's contest revealed the offensive ineptness typical of a preseason opener.
Starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 6 of 11 passes for 46 yards in two series. Backup Peter Tom Willis was 8 of 15 for 53 yards and was sacked once. Brent Snyder was 1 for 4 for 7 yards.
"P.T. hung in there. He will throw the ball. I'm not really worried about P.T.," Ditka said. "Tonight's exhibition means very little. I don't care if he looked good or bad. I want him to have a command of the game."
The Bears covered 53 yards in 18 plays of a drive that consumed 10 minutes 47 seconds in the first period. But Gardocki was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
Thomas went down with with 6:36 left in the second period on a third-down pass by Willis that fell incomplete. Roman Matusz, who later suffered leg cramps, took Thomas' place.
Miami quarterback Scott Secules, who took over for Dan Marino in the second quarter, fumbled a snap from center that linebacker Dante Jones recovered. The Bears failed to take advantage of that turnover, but they got the ball right back when Secules' pass intended for fullback Garrett Limbrick bounced into Cox's hands.
This time, the Bears drove to the 7-yard line before settling for a 25- yard field goal by Gardocki and a 3-0 halftime lead.
The Bears drove inside the Dolphins' 5 at the end of the half, but Willis seemed to lose track of the game clock and requested a timeout after time had expired.
The Bears ran 39 plays to the Dolphins' 14 in the first half, netting 130 total yards to Miami's 42. Marino was 3 of 4 for 25 yards.
"The first-team defense looked awfully good," Ditka said. "I have no problem with the defense. I thought Cox played good. McMichael looked great. Perry played good. There were a lot of good things out there. But our job is to score points.
"You get three or four turnovers like the defense and special teams gave us, you ought to be able to get it in the end zone. We need a lot of work."
Gardocki's second field goal from 25 yards closed the scoring in the third period. The third-round pick from Clemson also punted three times for a 34-yard average. Veteran Maury Buford punted three times for a 44-yard average.
Even though the defense is usually ahead of the offense at this stage, Ditka said: "That is no excuse for some of the things we're doing right now. We just have to do it better.
"I was impressed with the pass protection overall. The quarterbacks moved around pretty good. Matusz and Stan and Wojo (John Wojciechowski) did a pretty good job. They tried."
That was the only positive thing Ditka could say about his tackle situation.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times