Bears use Bye to get Healthy

Lake Forest - For the first time this year the Bears received some positive news on the injury front. Brian Urlacher and Jerry Azumah are expected to return to the field following the team's bye.

Azumah missed the preseason and first month of the regular season because he needed surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck.

Recovery was estimated at 3-4 months, but if Azumah suits up against Washington on Oct. 17th he will have returned in just over two months.

The secondary could use a boost of veteran leadership considering the team has already lost FS Mike Brown for the season (Achilles) and CB Charles Tillman (knee) until at least November.

"Whenever Jerry Azumah is healthy and ready to go, he will be one of our starters immediately. I think he is that good of a football player," Lovie Smith said. "We need him and we're anxious to get him back into the mix."

Azumah is also expected to return kicks, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2003. He averaged an NFL-high 29 yards per attempt and returned two for touchdowns. In his absence the Bears have averaged 23.3 yards per attempt this year.

Urlacher has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury that also kept him out of the entire preseason.

The Bears have allowed running backs to have 166 yards worth of receptions in the past two games. Urlacher's athletic ability should have cut that production dramatically.

Lance Briggs has also looked rather ordinary without Urlacher in the lineup.

Hunter Hillenmeyer has impressed the coaching staff enough in his substitution for Urlacher that he will get consideration to start at strong-side linebacker against the Redskins.

"The last couple of times Hunter has played well," Smith said. "What we're trying to do is find the best three linebackers to get on the field so we're really looking (at moving him to the strong-side) right now so Hunter could easily end up playing when Brian comes back He's a good football player and he deserves more time."

Rex Tucker's return is not as certain. He's making progress, but with the offensive line playing well as a unit there isn't the same urgency to get Tucker back on the field, as he recovers from a dislocated right elbow.

"It may take Rex a little while longer and our offensive line is really kind of in place right now so it will be a little bit different situation with our offensive line. We'll see where Rex is and where we go from there."

Alfonso Boone is still recovering from having his right knee scoped and is still expected to miss at least two more weeks, but could be back in time for the Oct. 24th matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Olin Kreutz will use the bye week to get his right elbow scoped. The problem has bothered the three-time Pro Bowl center for some time, but he has played through pain so he could take care of it and not miss a game.

"It may be a two-week thing for him. We expect him to play for the Washington game," Smith said. "Of course, he can play with pain and he's been playing with pain."

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