Bears Back at Full Strength

With the imminent return of T Gabe Carimi and WR Earl Bennett, both of whom have been out since Week 2, Chicago will be at 100 percent health on Monday night when they face the Eagles.

It's a safe bet that the Chicago Bears will never be healthier than they'll be Monday night when they face the Eagles.

What remains to be seen is how the newly recovered players will be assimilated into the lineup.

Rookie offensive right tackle Gabe Carimi and wide receiver Earl Bennett will both be active in Philadelphia for the first time since Week 2, when Carimi suffered a partially dislocated kneecap and Bennett went out with a bruised chest. They were the only two Bears unavailable because of injury against the Vikings in Week 7.

"We have our 53-man roster, for the most part, intact right now," coach Lovie Smith said after his team returned to the practice field Tuesday afternoon following a four-day weekend. "This is the group we started the season with, that we wanted to win football games with. To have everyone eventually get in their role that we started off with is big. Most teams can't say that halfway through the season. We're in pretty good shape."

When the season began, Carimi was in a starting role, but there's no guarantee he'll get his job back immediately. Lance Louis has performed well the past two games after moving from right guard to right tackle, and Chris Spencer has done the same filling in at right guard.


T Gabe Carimi
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

"We don't have to make any of those decisions yet," Smith said. "We'll let (Carimi) tell us exactly how far he's come along."

Carimi says he's fine with that.

"I just have to keep on playing hard," he said. "The stability (of the knee) is fine, the pain's low, so everything's coming along good."

Bennett was off to a slow start, catching just three passes for 20 yards before he was injured early against the Saints. But he was second on the team last season with 561 yards and third with 46 receptions. This is his fourth week back on the practice field, so he's itching to get back into the action after being held out the past two games.

"The coaches just thought I wasn't ready to go," he said. "That's what it came down to. Just have to live with it and keep going, but nothing will hold me back from Monday's game."

As the No. 3 receiver last season, Bennett was often on the field as much as the two starters, but it's a more crowded position this year, with Devin Hester and Roy Williams (when he's been healthy) starting, Johnny Knox playing a lot and rookie Dane Sanzenbacher stepping into Bennett's spot in the slot and playing well.

"He's a starting (caliber) receiver," Smith said of Bennett. "We don't have to wonder what he can do, we've seen him in just about every situation. Whatever we've asked him to do, from returning punts for touchdowns to (playing) the slot receiver, (he's done)."

--Having battled through the most difficult portion of their schedule with a 4-3 record -- the same mark they had last season heading into their off week -- the Bears believe they're poised for a playoff push.

The Bears' first seven opponents have a combined record of 30-23. Their next nine are a combined 33-30, not counting the Monday night game between the Chargers and Chiefs.

"We feel good about where we're at right now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said late last week before giving his team a four-day break that ended with Tuesday's practice. "We're a good football team. It helps to be on a two-game winning streak, but we feel like our best football is ahead of us. We have a lot of improvements still to make, but getting a healthy team on the field is a step in the right direction. We can't wait to see how we compare to a good Philadelphia team."

Ah yes, "The Dream Team," as backup quarterback Vince Young dubbed the Eagles' collection of marquee free agents. Philadelphia's play was nightmarish during a 2-4 start, but coach Andy Reid's team looked pretty dreamy in Sunday night's lopsided victory over the Cowboys, their first win at home this season.

The Bears have the advantage of coming in well rested and almost completely healthy. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, who missed the previous two games with a sprained knee, should be back at practice this week, as should rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, who has been out since suffering a partially dislocated kneecap in Week 2.

Both players were able to participate in last week's scaled-down practices.

Carimi earned a starting job on the second day of training camp and is expected to get his gig back at right tackle, but it's not guaranteed that he will start vs. the Eagles Monday night. Lance Louis has done a solid job since moving over from right guard, while Chris Spencer filled in nicely in the spot that Louis left.


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