The competition continues

With the preseason opener two days away position battles will start to clear up. Here's a glimpse of what to look for in the week ahead.

The play of outside linebacker Marcus Reese and backup middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer has helped mitigate the injury absence of Brian Urlacher.

For now, Joe Odom, one of the starters at outside linebacker when camp opened, is the odd man out, although coach Lovie Smith said he's still evaluating personnel and will continue to shuffle players in and out with the first team.

Reese was promoted to first team when weak-side starter Lance Briggs moved from there to Urlacher's spot in the middle. Recently, though, Briggs has been able to move back to his outside spot with Hillenmeyer filling in for Urlacher.

"Marcus Reese continues to shine, really taking the advantage with Brian being out," coach Lovie Smith said. "(Wednesday) we let Lance go back to his position and play a little of the Will (weak-side) linebacker because we've gotten pretty good play out of our Mike (middle) linebacker position without him being there. So we like where the linebackers are."

Briggs will split time between weak and middle until Urlacher returns late in August. And Hillenmeyer will get an opportunity to prove that he's more than a special-teams player.

"Hunter has really played well," Smith said. "As guys continue to play well, they move up to get more reps, and that's what he's done."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown doesn't appear to have made much of an impression on Bears coaches. He played behind Mike Gandy at right guard on the first day of practice, moved up when Gandy suffered a groin injury and then last week played behind Terrence Metcalf.

Even with left guard Rex Tucker sitting out last Wednesday's practice to rest his surgical ankles, Brown was again playing with the second team. Metcalf and Gandy started at left guard and right guard, respectively.

"We're just looking at different combinations," coach Lovie Smith said. "We gave Terrence some reps (Monday) and he had an excellent practice. Right now, we're a new staff rolling people in. If you play well, you get more reps. And Terrence has played well."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
RB Brock Forsey. With Thomas Jones held out of Saturday's scrimmage with the Rams, Anthony Thomas nursing an abdominal injury and Adrian Peterson sidelined with a strained hamstring, Forsey was the only Bears running back to carry the ball. He picked up 17 yards on six carries and caught three passes for 27 yards.

ROOKIE REPORT
Rookie defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson have looked sluggish at times and at other times Harris has displayed disruptive quickness while Johnson shows brute strength and surprising agility.

"They're making progress," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're seeing flashes of what they'll be this coming year. We're pleased with where they are. We think both of them are about where rookie inside linemen should be right now."

--Bernard Berrian has a large group ahead of him at wide receiver, but he could be a factor right away in the return game. He averaged 11.6 yards per punt return at Fresno and 23.1 yards per kickoff return. His speed could help set him apart at wide receiver.

"We think he gives us a different dimension, just flat-out speed," coach Lovie Smith said. "He made a couple of mistakes today, which most freshmen will do, but it's about trying to get him as much experience as we possibly can. He's behind, but he can catch up quickly."

With his ability to get deep, Berrian knows catching up on the field won't be a problem for him. "I think I have a little bit more speed than everyone else," he said.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Berrian flashed that speed in Saturday's scrimmage with the Rams, when he hauled in a 35-yard pass from Jonathan Quinn, the Bears' longest play of the day.

--Fourth-round pick Nathan Vasher moves up the depth chart because of the neck injury to starting CB Jerry Azumah. Vasher might also wind up as the team's punt returner since R.W. McQuarters moves into Azumah's starting spot on defense.

INJURY REPORT
Brian Urlacher has never missed a regular-season NFL game in his four-year career, and he doesn't think he'll miss one this year, although he's been told his pulled right hamstring will take 4-6 weeks to heal.

Six weeks would bring him right up to the Sept. 12 season opener.

"I don't want to rush it, but I think three (weeks) maybe or four," Urlacher said. "I think I heal pretty quickly. I just have to take it slow and not try to push it because I don't want to pop it again once I get back out there."

So far, Urlacher has progressed to being able to jog slowly.


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