McQuarters' Status Uncertain

Lake Forest - The Bears have had 11 players miss time with hamstring injuries since opening training camp on July 28th. While Brian Urlacher and Desmond Clark returned to practice Sunday, another veteran's status is in doubt for the season opener.

R.W. McQuarters suffered a right hamstring pull in the second quarter of the contest against the New Orleans Saints.

The majority of the hamstring injuries have taken four to six weeks to heal, but at this point Lovie Smith is hopeful McQuarters can play against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 12th.

"I'm optimistic when I say that, I hope that's the case," Smith said. "I don't really know. We're just hoping. Everything's geared toward that. We hope we have as many of our guys as possible."

The secondary was already running thin because Jerry Azumah is out until at least October with a herniated disk in his neck, which required surgery.

"Right now, we've lost our second and third corners so we're pushing guys up," Smith said.

If McQuarters were unable to go, Todd McMillon will get the first chance to start in his place. Rookie Nathan Vasher will also get consideration.

McMillon is a five-year veteran with one career start on his resume. The former Canadian Football League player has been a fixture on special teams over the past few seasons, but with or without McQuarters he will be expected to play a larger role.

Vasher had a typical rookie training camp. At times he looked overmatched, but did come up with an interception against the San Francisco 49ers.

Even Mike Green could be an option moving from strong safety to cornerback. With Azumah down Green has worked as the team's nickel back and has played the position in the past.

"He has experience and the way we play them, we don't put our corners in a lot of man-to-man, no-help situations, so yes, he's an option also," Smith said of Green.

The only way Green would be moved is if McQuarters is going to miss significant time. Even if Green did move to cornerback fulltime the Bears have enough depth at strong safety to fill the void. Bobby Gray has been replacing Green when he becomes the third cornerback in nickel situations. Todd Johnson has also had a solid training camp and preseason.

Throughout the preseason opposing teams had been staying away from Charles Tillman, who has earned the reputation as the team's best cover corner, in order to test McQuarters. That pattern should only increase with McMillon and Vasher in the fold.

"I think it's a compliment (when quarterbacks don't throw my way)," Tillman said. "Everybody has a job to do, as long as everyone does their job nothing should go wrong."

For McQuarters trying to return too soon could mean further aggravating an injury. In 2002 he suffered a knee injury in the season opener and missed three games. During his first game he suffered a hamstring pull when he tried to compensate for the knee and missed two more weeks.

"I'm pretty fast healer now, but I'll leave it up to the training staff to get me there too," McQuarters said. "Nobody likes to go through rehab. You talk about practices and being tired, but whenever you're out due to injury you're just like, ‘oh man.' You don't like that at all."

The other problem McQuarters' absence presents is in the punt return game. He averaged 12.2 yards per attempt in 2003 and reached the end zone once.

It appears Vasher and a fellow rookie will be the top options to handle the punt return duties.

"Bernard Berrian can return, Nathan Vasher has also returned but just like at the corner position having to move people up we'll do the same thing there," Smith said.

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