Medical Watch

With Lovie Smith's first mini-camp more than a month away there is reason to believe that the Bears could be at full strength.

QB Rex Grossman avoided surgery on the torn tendon in his right middle finger, and he should be ready to throw at the first mini-camp, which is slated for March 26-28.

OT Marc Colombo is expected to be able to participate in offseason workouts, as his excruciatingly long rehab from a dislocated kneecap during the 2002 season continues. But Colombo was also expected to participate in last year's training camp, and he wound up missing the entire season.

OG Rex Tucker is expected to have recovered by mini-camp from a torn right ankle tendon that kept him out for the entire 2003 season. Tucker also missed the final 11 games of the 2002 season with a fractured left fibula and dislocated left ankle.

If Colombo and Tucker can prove that they're physically ready to play then the Bears could add two quality linemen to protect Grossman.

With a new coaching staff the NFL grants teams additional mini-camps and an extra week of training camp. The Bears will hold another mini-camp a week before the draft. Meaning the coaching staff will have two mini-camps of work to evaluate the progress of Colombo and Tucker.

There is also a chance that with the money the team could save by releasing veterans Phillip Daniels, Warrick Holdman and Kordell Stewart could pave the way to signing a left tackle worthy of a starting nod.

The most critical position on the line has been a huge question mark since Blake Brockermeyer started all 16 games in 2001. Since then four different players have spent time trying to protect the quarterback's blindside with no real degree of success.

With already approximately $11 million to work with under the 2004 salary cap and possibly more to come Jerry Angelo should be able to make a run at Green Bay's Chad Clifton, San Diego's Damion McIntosh or Cleveland's Barry Stokes. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones are both likely to be tagged and would be too costly to pursue. At this point Clifton could be the most intriguing option because he would not only help Chicago's line, but takeaway from Green Bay's unit.

Solidifying the left tackle spot along with the possible return of a healthy Tucker and Colombo could quickly turn a ragged line into a position of strength.

The Insiders contributed to this report.

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