KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
KEYS TO THE GAME
Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck showed a veteran's poise in preseason games, but also a propensity to start slow with just one first-quarter touchdown. His offensive line isn't a stone wall, and the Bears present matchup issues across the front with DE Julius Peppers also sliding inside in some packages. Luck needs the running game to pick up the pace after a grim preseason effort.
The Bears aren't just explosive on offense with WR Brandon Marshall and RB Matt Forte, but KR-PR Devin Hester (19 career return TDs) is a primary focal point for Colts kickers. If OLBs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can heat up the pocket and force QB Jay Cutler to throw early, it gives Indy's secondary a better chance to hold up.
The Colts have lost five of the past six meetings. ... Cutler's teams are 24-0 when he has a 100-plus passer rating.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Andrew Luck says that he's ready to face the Chicago Bears' vaunted defense.
Of course, the Indianapolis Colts' rookie quarterback understands that there's a big difference between being ready to play and actually playing well. But that's his objective heading into Sunday's regular-season opener at Solider Field.
"Excited. Obviously going up against a great team, great defense. It will be a great measuring stick I think for us. Just very excited to get going," Luck said this week.
The Colts' No. 1 draft pick knows that the tempo and overall speed of the game will pick up considerably with the regular-season underway. But Luck had a strong showing over the course of four preseason games, improvement which he hopes will continue this week.
"Having the preseason games and sort of getting back there and feeling live bullets standing in the pocket, and going through that was helpful. (I've been) trying to think about comparing it to freshman year in college where you don't get to scrimmage anybody else, you don't get to play anybody else," he pointed out.
"I'll take these next couple practices (this week) very seriously. I think those will help prepare (me) and hopefully I'll be ready to go."
As a rookie in the National Football League, particularly as a first-year starting quarterback in the league, Luck is quite aware that there will be more than a few bumps and bruises along the way.
After all, his predecessor with the Colts -- Peyton Manning -- threw 28 interceptions en route to a 3-13 season in 1998. Manning also had 26 touchdown passes that season.
"I hope I don't have to (experience a lot of growing pains). But yeah. I think it's part of growing up. Part of being a rookie is, I guess, coming up to situations that you haven't seen before," Luck said. "I've got great guys to rely on all around this locker room. Just try to get to the basics when things like that happen and just run the offense."
So what's been the biggest transition from being the starting quarterback at Stanford to, now, being the No. 1 starter for the Colts?
"I think so far it's been just the breadth of (pass) protections. The different types of protections. Drop back, play-action, the nakeds, the boots," he voiced. "We didn't have that many in college and now I'm like, 'OK this is a man protection, this picks up this type of blitz, this is scat, this is a slide protection.' That's sort of been the biggest challenge."
"I think at first when you turn the film on, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, that is Julius Peppers, standing up there.' But you have to get that out of your system and you can't go out there and stare in awe of those guys," Luck said.
"Obviously, you watch them grow up but you're not trying to get autographs from them, you're trying to win a game. So it'll be fun and I'm looking forward to it."
Super-charged offense or not, the Bears will still have to win some games with defense this season if they plan on making it to the postseason for just the second time in six years.
And, for the defense to shoulder its share of the load, it needs Brian Urlacher in the middle of the action. The eight-time Pro Bowler says he plans to play the entire game Sunday against the Colts at Soldier Field. That sounds ludicrous for a player who missed the entire preseason and almost all of training camp, if for no other reason than his diminished level of conditioning.
"I'm not up to speed," Urlacher admits. "I know the defense well, but I've got to get my technique down and work on some things. But I'm practicing, that's all that matters to me. I'll get it down the more I'm out there, the more reps I see, I'll get better. I'm not as out of shape as I thought I would be, so that's good."
Actually, Urlacher did not practice on Thursday, but the occasional day off is part of the plan this season. He is expected to practice Friday.
For maybe the first time since his rookie year in 2000, there are questions about whether an opposing offense might try to take advantage of the Bears' middle linebacker.
"If they want to test me," Urlacher said, "then I'll have more chances to make plays."
Defensive end Israel Idonije believes that would be a poor decision for the Colts.
"If anyone who's thinking that Brian is going to be a weak part of the defense, then absolutely, run at him," Idonije challenged. "The guy is a physical specimen. He's worked hard to put himself into a position so he can be on the field. He's one of those guys who are relentless. He's a tough, tough guy. If that's something they think they can exploit, by all means they're going to try. Then, at the end of the day, we'll see. We're going to see what happens."
--If OG Joe Reitz is unable to play Sunday, look for either OG Seth Olsen or OG/OT Jeff Linkenbach to get the start. Both Olsen and Linkenbach have split duty with Reitz since the start of training camp. Early indications, though, is that it would probably be Linkenbach, who has played guard and tackle during his two years with the team.
--OLB Robert Mathis says he is done with looking back at the Colts' 2-14 2011 season. The past is the past, according to Mathis. He says that this year's team has some making up to do.
"We'll say it's more than a chip (on the shoulders of the players). It's a whole two-by-four wood block," Mathis said. "We know what we got in this locker room. We know what we've been working hard towards all offseason so it's time to put it on the field."
"The people in this building believe in what we can do. We know what we have," Bethea said. "The system that has been brought over has done a tremendous job in the past. Like we've been saying as players, if we just grasp onto the concept and buy in, we'll be fine. As far as the naysayers are saying, you can't be worried about that."
--WR Austin Collie wasn't upset that Steelers LB Larry Foote wasn't fined for the forearm to the side of his helmet during the second week of preseason. Collie suffered a concussion on the play. "No I'm not. That's just football," he said. "Would I have liked to have avoided the hit? Yes. But those guys on the Pittsburgh Steelers, those guys fly around and they have one mindset and that's to hit the guy with the ball. It's just unfortunate."
--Rookie WR LaVon Brazill is expected to handle the kickoff return and punt return duties for the Colts Sunday in Chicago. Brazill did both jobs during the preseason but fellow rookie WR T.Y. Hilton may also be used to return kicks if cleared to play.
--WR Austin Collie (concussion) saw limited practice time Thursday. He remains hopeful of playing Sunday against the Bears. Collie said before the start of Thursday's practice that while he has been cleared to fully participate in workouts this week, he's still waiting to hear if he will be cleared to play in Sunday's game. He expects to be in the starting lineup in Chicago.
"We're just going to continue to see how I feel. I don't want to make a definite statement of yes I am playing on Sunday, no I'm not playing on Sunday because we still have time," Collie said. "I want to see how things go (in practice Thursday). I want to see how things go tomorrow and we'll go from there."
--DE Cory Redding (knee) fully participated in Thursday's practice and is expected to start Sunday in Chicago.
--RB Delone Carter (ribs) went through a full workout on Thursday and should be available to play Sunday against the Bears.
--RB Mewelde Moore (ribs) fully practiced Thursday and is expected to play at Chicago on Sunday.
--CB Jerraud Powers (knee) practiced on Thursday and will start against the Bears on Sunday.
--WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) saw limited work Thursday. Hilton's status for the Chicago game has yet to be determined.
--OG Joe Reitz (knee) did not practice Thursday. Reitz has experienced a sore knee since training camp. He was also inadvertently kicked in the knee during practice last week. He might be a game-time decision.
--WR Brandon Marshall had an NFL-record 21 catches (for 200 yards) the last time he played against the Colts in 2009.
--QB Jay Cutler has a 90.6 passer rating on opening day but just an 8-7 TD-interception ratio.
--RB Matt Forte has averaged just 3.7 yards on 81 opening-day carries but has caught 15 passes for 249 yards (17.3-yard average) and three touchdowns.
--PK Robbie Gould has never missed a kick on opening day, hitting 14 of 14 field-goal attempts and 10 of 10 extra points.
--WR/RS Devin Hester has averaged 12.5 yards on 14 opening-day punt returns with one TD but just 20.4 yards on eight kickoff returns. He returned The Opening kickoff for a TD against the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
--LB Brian Urlacher (knee) did not practice Thursday but will do so on Friday and said he expects to play the entire game on Sunday.
--S Chris Conte (shoulder) was limited Thursday and will probably be listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.
--P Adam Podlesh (hip) was limited Thursday and did not kick, as he did a day earlier. Podlesh probably will not play Sunday.
--RB Lorenzo Booker (head) didn't practice and probably won't play.
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