Homeward Bound

BOURBONNAIS -- For the past three years Lovie Smith has spent training camp in Macomb, Ill. On Thursday he'll return, but this time as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Smith admitted he's excited about facing his former players and colleagues, but there is still a sense of wanting to come out on top.

"It isn't a family reunion; we're going over there to improve our football team," Smith said. "We want to see our players perform against different guys. We haven't tackled live except for really one period."

Mike Martz hired Smith, who had been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach from 1996-00, as his defensive coordinator in 2001. Martz's high-powered offense coupled with Smith's aggressive defensive philosophy proved to be a successful combination. St. Louis reached the Super Bowl in their first year together and reached the playoffs in each Smith's three seasons in St. Louis.

While the Rams have been known as offensive squad, Smith built the Rams defense into a takeaway machine. From 2001-03, the Rams ranked third in the NFL with 106 turnovers and 49 fumble recoveries, sixth in sacks with 125, and tied for eighth with 57 interceptions. St. Louis forced a league-high 46 turnovers last season.

"I'm here right now because of what most of the players did and Mike Martz, giving me an opportunity to run the defense there," Smith said.

The Rams are coming off a 12-4 season and an early test will give the coaching staff a chance to evaluate where the Bears are after 11 practices in nine days. For the players it's an opportunity to hit someone beside a teammate and possibly move up the depth chart.

"As far as we're concerned they're one of the best teams in the league so this is a good chance for us to see exactly where we are," Smith said. "And then we play them the following week."

The Bears travel to Western Illinois University with numerous players dinged up, but only linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring), running back Anthony Thomas (abdomen) and tight end Desmond Clark (hamstring) have been totally ruled out for the Rams scrimmage.

* Schedule:The Bears will practice once today, twice Friday and scrimmage the Rams in a 90-minute session at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

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