"Initially we talked about (Azumah returning) some time after the open date (Oct. 10), and we're hoping it's some time around there," Smith said. "I could play 'Dr. Smith,' but I really don't know for sure. That's what I'm hoping."
Azumah's return would go a long way toward filling the void left by the loss of Brown, and especially Tillman.
Both injured defensive backs say the Bears' secondary will be in good hands until they return, but it almost sounds like whistling past the graveyard. Todd Johnson and Bobby Gray will both play safety in Brown's absence.
"I told Todd he has to look at it as him and Bobby have to come and take my job," Brown said. "'Make them get rid of me.' That's the way they have to look at it, and go out there and perform that way, and hopefully they do, so I can go get another (signing) bonus somewhere."
Gray and Johnson will be on the field together in passing situations, when Green moves to the third cornerback position in the Bears' nickel defense.
"Greenie's going to be fine," Brown said. "He plays every position, so he probably knows the defense better than any guys in the room, including linebackers, anybody. He has help back there. The key is communication. As long as they keep the lines of communication open, they'll be fine. They'll be perfect."
Of more concern is how the Bears will fare without Tillman, who preserved a 13-10 victory over the Vikings in the fourth quarter last season by taking a ball out of Moss' hands in the end zone.
"That play was last year," Tillman said. "I know that's what the hype probably was about for this game, me taking the ball away from Randy Moss. That was a long time ago; a lot of games ago. I'm past the big Randy Moss play. It's about this year. That's why they drafted Nathan Vasher and why they've got Todd McMillon.
"I have all the faith and confidence in those two guys. I don't know how the rest of the Bears' fans feel about those two guys, but personally, I know what they can do. I think they are going to step up and accept the challenge."
Vasher and McMillon are both getting reps with the first team, and Smith said he won't decide on a starter until later in the week. It's even possible that Green could move to cornerback, leaving Gray and Johnson as the starting safeties. Whoever is at the corner with R.W. McQuarters will attract a lot of attention from Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
"Obviously they're going to test whoever's out there, especially a young corner," Brown said. "That's what it's about in this league, especially at corner. The only way to learn is to go out there and be tossed in the fire and see if you can make plays. The only way you're going to find out is if you do it or you can't. It's a perfect opportunity for them to step up and make plays."
The Vikings' ability to rebound from a 27-16 loss at Philadelphia might hinge on how well third-year pro Adam Haayer and rookie Nat Dorsey handle blocking Bears left defensive end Adewale Ogunleye at the Metrodome on Sunday.
Ogunleye led the AFC in sacks last season with 15 at Miami. He also has 24.5 sacks since 2002 (none this season) and was good enough to fetch former Bears No. 1 receiver Marty Booker in an offseason trade.
Meanwhile, Haayer will be making his first NFL start in his seventh game, while Dorsey, a fourth-round draft pick, will be making his NFL debut. They're replacing six-year veteran Mike Rosenthal, who fractured his right foot against the Eagles and was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.
"(Haayer and Dorsey) are good players," coach Mike Tice said. "They're just young."
The Vikings will rotate Haayer and Dorsey every few series. The team hopes the 6-foot-7, 322-pound Dorsey plays well enough to take most of the reps and establish himself as the starter coming out of next week's bye.
Dorsey is a more natural tackle (although he hasn't played on the right side since high school), while Haayer is more valuable as a backup to the line's four non-center positions. Haayer could hang on to the job if he plays well and the 21-year-old Dorsey proves to be too green for the assignment.
The Vikings will give Haayer and Dorsey help in pass protection with tight ends and running backs. But they won't babysit them the entire game.
"(The tackle) has to be out there on an island by himself sometimes, and he has to show us he can win," Tice said. "If he can't win, then the next guy is going to get a chance. We're cognizant of him having a tough duty, but at the same time there are a number of times he has to do his job."
Haayer and Dorsey said they're excited about the opportunity to start and play. For Haayer, a Twin Cities native, it's something he has dreamed about since he was a child.
"I've wanted to run through that tunnel since I was a kid," Haayer said. "I always wanted to be Keith Millard. I wasn't thinking of playing offensive line back then."