The Chicago Bears conducted their first regular season practice yesterday and three familiar faces were back on the field. LB Brian Urlacher (knee), S Chris Conte (shoulder) and DT Stephen Paea (ankle), all starters, were back practicing with the team.
For Bears fans, this is a welcome development, especially to see Urlacher out there, who hasn't practiced in more than a month and underwent a knee scope late in training camp.
"We felt we would have our entire football team ready to practice for today. For the most part, we had that," Lovie Smith said after practice. "I know most of you were filming Brian, No. 54, quite a bit. He had a good first day back. He's got to get in shape; I'm sure he'll tell you that and a few other things like that."
Media only have access to the first 10 minutes of practice, so we didn't get a chance to see Urlacher in action. But during walkthroughs, there was Urlacher in his middle linebacker position.
"He did everything we asked him to do," said Smith. "You forgot that he's been out. We've seen No. 54. When we're playing, 54's out there for so long, so today was just back to the normal routine as much as anything."
Urlacher's teammates were also excited about his return.
"It's big-time," said Nick Roach. "He's clearly one of our captains, one of our big-time players. So just to have him back on the field, knowing he's ready to go, is big. We're still a long ways away from Sunday. But just to have him back is definitely a positive."
With Urlacher recovered, Roach can move out of the middle linebacker position and resume his duties on the strong side.
Barring a setback, it appears Urlacher should be ready to go Sunday afternoon for the club's regular season opener against the Indianapolis Colts – which is what he and the team stated publicly all along.
On the defensive front, Paea got his regular work in, after missing the last three preseason games with an ankle sprain. He said he participated in the entire practice and had no setbacks.
"Yeah, everything; individual, team, being able to cut and do all of the change of directions. I'm feeling good," Paea said. "I thought I was gonna be ready by (the end of) preseason; like that last game, the Browns game. But I'm trying to be smart about it and trying not to aggravate it or something like that; especially (because it's) an ankle injury. I'm ready to go."
Smith said the team didn't want to risk further injury by letting Paea play in the preseason finale.
"We held him out late in the week. But he was getting some good work on the side," said Smith. "It's not like this is the first day for us to see exactly where the guys are. We've been watching them on the side, but to get them back to the team environment, and Stephen didn't have any trouble."
On the back end of the defense, Conte practiced for the first time since separating his shoulder in the second preseason game. He's on track to line up at free safety next to Major Wright as the starting safety duo on Sunday.
The only starter not practicing was P Adam Podlesh, who is still recovering from a hip flexor.
"Amobi is one of our guys. There was disappointment when he signed with Tampa," said Smith. "He's a young player, played good football for us last year, everybody was excited about getting him back. I know he's been injured before down there but he had a good day of practice today."
Okoye had a scope on his knee in early June. He played in Tampa's first preseason game but experienced a setback, forcing him to sit out the rest of the preseason. This compelled the Buccaneers to cut the former first-round draft pick.
"I had a procedure done on my knee which limited me in training camp, but that's good now and I'm eager to get back on the field," Okoye said. "I went into camp a little early in terms of my recovery time. I could feel the difference. I had some inflammation after the first preseason game and that helped me decide to cool things down a little, give it more time to heal. But the time has passed now and I am back to 100 percent. I'm ready to practice and ready to play as the season starts."
Okoye will again assume the role of Melton's backup.
-On Friday, the Bears pulled off a trade with the Texans, sending FB Tyler Clutts to Houston for CB Sherrick McManis. A fifth-round pick out of Northwestern in 2010, McManis has never started a game at cornerback and will contribute mainly on special teams.
"It's good to be back in Chicago and playing for the Bears," McManis said. "I'm also reunited with my old Northwestern teammate, Nick Roach. The trade happened so fast that I haven't really had the chance to get my head around it yet. I'm looking forward to learning the system and contributing within that system. I'm feeling good; I'm feeling healthy. I had a productive camp and I'm ready to go now."
-Chicago's first regular-season depth chart was released yesterday. There were no changes on the offensive line, as the preseason starters will hold their positions heading into Week 1: LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Spencer, C Roberto Garza, RG Lance Louis, RT Gabe Carimi.
Although the team has not officially announced it – we'll talk to OC Mike Tice tomorrow – it appears Webb has won the offseason battle for the starting left tackle gig.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.