Notebook: Grossman Practices

Lake Forest – In a week filled with off the field distractions, the biggest news came when Rex Grossman stepped onto the practice field for the first time since fracturing his ankle in the preseason.

Grossman didn't go through the entire practice, but did run seven-on-seven drills with the scout team. While he's still not 100 percent, being able to work with the team is a big step.

"I had a great day today," Grossman said. "I felt like I was somewhat normal. When I have pain it feels like I have a bruise on the side of my leg. When I have to really push off, it feels like I have a bad bruise on the side of my leg, but it's not that bad.

"It was just fun today to get out there and throw to receivers and get back in the mix."

The third-year quarterback looked to have lost another season to injury when he went down against the Rams on Aug. 12. The original timeframe following surgery to repair his left ankle was three to four months. The fact that 75 percent of Grossman's weight stays on his right foot when he throws is a benefit. He's wearing a high top shoe to help protect the ankle.

The six-foot-1, 220-pounder has targeted the Tampa game as his return date.

"I think it's realistic if I had to," Grossman said of suiting up against the Buccaneers. "For some reason if I had to play I think I could do it. But I don't think there's any reason to put someone out there who's not totally a hundred percent capable (of playing)."

Kyle Orton will be tested against the Carolina Panthers. In his last game against a team with a winning record he threw five interceptions in a 24-7 loss to the Bengals. A similar type of performance could force the Bears to turn to Grossman sooner than expected.

Orton will make his 10th start of the season vs. the Panthers, which is compares to Grossman's six career starts in three years. Despite the team being in first place with a rookie QB at the helm, there is a feeling that Grossman offers the team the best chance to finish strong and the possibility of winning a playoff game.

The Bears rank 30th in the league through the air, while Orton's passer rating is 31st. Still the Bears have said Orton is the starter and Grossman will back him up when he returns.

However, if Grossman shows he's ready to play and Orton struggles against tougher competition it will be difficult for the coaching staff not to make a change.

Medically Speaking
RT Fred Miller (jaw) practiced for the second straight day and has been upgraded to probable.

"Fred had another good practice," said head coach Lovie Smith. "No problems, so we're just on schedule. Hopefully, he'll be able to go (Sunday)."

Center Olin Kreutz (elbow), guard Ruben Brown (pectoral) and cornerback Nathan Vasher (ill) all returned to practice Thursday and are expected to play against the Panthers. Charles Tillman sat out practice because of an ankle sprain, but is probable for the game and is expected to start.

Good Cause
The Bears' 17th annual winter coat drive for needy children and families kicks off Sunday at Soldier Field against the Panthers.

Collection bins will be located at all stadium entrances and in parking lots adjacent to Soldier Field. Coats can also be dropped off at all Dominick's stores and Salvation Army locations beginning Monday and continuing through Jan. 16.

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