Deep Thoughts

Lake Forest - If the next stage in the development of rookie Kyle Orton as an NFL quarterback includes improvement in completing the long ball, no one will be happier than Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad.

Last year's NFL receiving yardage leader is averaging just 11.2 yards per catch, more than 2 yards less than his career average and almost 4 yards less than last year.

Orton has made huge strides in eliminating mistakes since his five-interception game against the Bengals. He's thrown just one pick and four TDs in the three games since then, but he still is struggling to connect on deep routes, even when receivers are open.

"You have a guy who hasn't played at this level," Muhammad said. "It takes time. I think it happens faster for some people, and for some people it doesn't happen as fast. But whatever the learning curve is for Kyle, only he can determine that, and the coaches have to evaluate that. Until that time, everyone else is going to have to pick up the slack."

Muhammad said there's a limit to how much practice will help him and Orton become more efficient collaborators.

"Practice is a lot different than games, so he has to learn how to hit those in the games," Muhammad said. "He's got to learn how to find the open guy and hit the open guy on the deep balls in the game. You can come out and practice when there's not pressure, but when that pressure's on in the game, that's where he has to find his comfort (level). How long it takes him to get to that point, I don't know."

Last season Muhammad led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches. He has just one this year, and his longest reception of the season is 28 yards. That's also the longest pass completion of the season for the Bears. But offensive coordinator Ron Turner believes it's only a matter of time before Orton starts clicking on the longer passes that the Bears need to stretch defenses that will only become more and more dedicated to stopping their running game.

"I think we're close," Turner said. "I think it's a matter of just keep doing it. As I have said all along, we wanted to establish the running game and keep that going. Getting the ball down the field would be the next part that comes."

Orton is confident that the solution is just around the corner. He's been working overtime on his footwork and expects the deep part of his game will improve sooner rather than later.

"It's one thing throughout my career I've been really good at is being real accurate on my deep balls," he said. "I think a little bit has to do with just being with the guys for just a couple months. It's going to get better, and I'll be completing most of those balls."

Medical Watch
RB Thomas Jones (sprained knee) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, but returned to work Friday and has been removed from the injury list. He's been on a reduced practice schedule for three weeks but has rushed for 228 yards on 48 carries the past two Sundays.

Although LG Ruben Brown (chest) returned to practice for the first time since he was injured on Oct. 9, he was downgraded from questionable to doubtful and isn't expected to play Sunday.

WR Mark Bradley (knee), LB Lance Briggs (groin), TE Desmond Clark (hip), C Olin Kreutz (elbow) and LT John Tait (ankle) were all removed from the injury report. RG Terrence Metcalf missed practice on Friday because of an ankle injury, but is listed as probable and should be ready.

Six members of the Lions remain questionable, including DT Shaun Rogers and WR Roy Williams.

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