It's not as if the Bears' defense is licking its chops over the prospect of facing Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on Sunday night because he hasn't been able to play at all in the preseason after having knee surgery to remove an infected bursa sac. But it at least beats having to face him when he's in mid-season form.
"I would say an 80 percent Peyton Manning is better than most quarterbacks in the league," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We expect we'll see a 100 percent Peyton Manning though."
Whatever percent Manning is, he won't have the benefit of Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. The 10-year veteran leader of the Colts' offensive line has missed just two starts in the previous eight years, but Saturday won't play against the Bears because of a torn MCL which may require knee surgery.
So, with a rusty Manning, minus his undisputed line leader, could the Bears' defensive line have an advantage in the first regular-season game at Lucas Oil Field?
Maybe, if they were completely healthy. But they're not.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris practiced Wednesday for the first time in more than two weeks, and he was limited but indicated he would play Sunday, though not at full strength.
"I play in the NFL," he said. "I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent."
Harris practiced with a knee brace Wednesday, but that's been standard procedure since he suffered a sprain last season, as he pointed out to the uninformed.
"I've been wearing this brace since that happened," he said. "I have to wear it. That was the deal. If I signed a new contract, the brace comes with it."
Nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek played only about 10 snaps in the preseason while rehabbing a strained calf, and he was listed Wednesday's injury report, although he was not limited at practice.
It's doubtful that he's ready to play an entire game, though. Backup defensive end Mark Anderson was also limited at practice Wednesday, as the pass-rush specialist recovers from thumb surgery after the second preseason game.
All three linemen were listed on the injury report and won't be 100 percent for the Colts. However, Harris was rarely 100 percent last season, and he still made the Pro Bowl. The good news is that defensive tackle has probably the deepest talent pool of any position on the team, with Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, rookie Marcus Harrison, who had his left knee wrapped in ice Wednesday, and Matt Toeaina.
Every one of the defensive linemen who suit up for Sunday night's nationally televised game knows the outcome will be greatly affected by how much pressure they can exert on Manning.
"I think the Giants (in Super Bowl XLII) did a good job of showing everybody that when you put pressure on great quarterbacks, it makes it hard for anybody," Dvoracek said. "So the more pressure we can put on him, the harder it's going to make his job, which is going to help us win."
Gimpy leg or not, Manning is still expected to keep the defense guessing by changing calls at the line of scrimmage, or by pretending to do so, often using up almost every second of the play clock, while defensive linemen must wait, poised in their stances. Not many defenses can react quickly enough to win a chess match against the Colts' perennial Pro Bowl quarterback.
"It's very tough because you may have the defense that you want to call, and he'll wait until the very last second to make his checks, and you might be in your stance for maybe 30 seconds," Adams said. "The next thing you know, he changes up the offense, so it's very difficult when you're dealing with someone as smart and as quick as he is."
Adams wasn't among the majority of Bears who were defeated by Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI, but everyone except the first-year players faced him last preseason.
"Luckily, we went a little over a quarter against him, so we got an idea of what he does and how he works it," Dvoracek said. "He's just kind of up there talking. A lot of that stuff is just for show. The hardest thing for a d-lineman is to just be in your stance for so long. But when the ball's (finally) snapped you go play football, just like anybody else."
For the Bears, it all starts up front.
"We have to get after their front," Idonije said. "On the run; the pass; our front four has to be a factor in the game, definitely."
SERIES HISTORY: 41st meeting. Colts lead series, 23-17, including s 29-17 victory in Super Bowl XLI.
"When we got back (to Halas Hall) there was all the confetti and stuff in our helmets and pads for weeks," Idonije said. "It was difficult, but you hold that and use it on Sunday. They ruined a good year for us. You think back to that day and how close you were, and you can't help but wanting to get on the field and make a statement and start off the year right."
A lot of thoughts went through Idonije's head as he watched the Colts celebrate after their victory.
"You think ‘So close,'" he said. "You're so close to that greatness; to being Super Bowl champions. Now no one remembers No. 2. It was tough just to watch."
The Colts also rushed for a whopping 191 yards. And it's not just the aerial game that the defense has to contend with Sunday. The Colts were No. 6 last season in average gain per rush, and Joseph Addai rushed for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Their offensive line does a great job with their zone schemes, and they have a very good running back," Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek said. "That's the first thing we have to do up front is stop the run and try to make them go to the pass and then put pressure on Peyton. They're a very well-rounded team, throwing and running."
"That's a part of our history; it's a part of what we are," Smith said. "We're linked with them. To say that we've forgotten that, no, that'll be with us forever. The biggest game we've played since we've been here, we lost to them, so that's definitely part of it.
"Does it really affect much that's going on right now? No, they're just another opponent for the 2008 season."
Forte's parents and brother had already evacuated (to Atlanta) along with 2 million other residents of the area.
"It's a distraction somewhat, but that's part of life," Forte said. "You always have distractions and things that come up that you don't expect. You have to learn how to deal with things like that."
Informed that Payton was held to zero yards on 8 carries in his debut, Forte said, "Hopefully I'll do better than that."
BY THE NUMBERS: 15. Number of starting quarterbacks the Bears have used since Peyton Manning took over for the Colts, Sept. 6, 1998.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You would assume that the passing game would give us the most trouble, but we had trouble stopping the run."-- Bears coach Lovie Smith, noting that the Colts rolled up 191 yards on the ground vs. the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
The Lions should be entering their season opener Sunday against the Falcons with people talking about things like their revamped secondary and a potential breakout season for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who grew up outside at Atlanta and went to Georgia Tech.
Instead, people are talking about Rudi Johnson replacing Tatum Bell at running back - and a bizarre he-said, he-said about a couple of Gucci duffel bags that turned up missing and came back empty.
Rudi Johnson visited the Lions on Monday, officially signed Tuesday and went through his first practice Wednesday. He is listed as the backup to rookie Kevin Smith for Sunday's game. He needs to take a crash course on the offense.
"I know my cell phone is ringing (like) crazy, but I don't have time for no phone calls right now," Johnson said. "I've got a lot of work to do. That's all I'm looking forward to doing, man. Once I get that behind me, I can go out and just play football."
Asked if he expects to start once he gets comfortable, Johnson said: "That's for the coaches to decide, man. My main thing now is, go and contribute, go out and just make plays, give this team a tough, physical mindset and just do what I've done in the past. ... From now on, whatever happens, happens."
Johnson spent his first seven seasons in Cincinnati. He averaged 1,407 rushing yards from 2004-06 and played in a Pro Bowl. He had hamstring problems last season and this preseason, and the Bengals cut him Saturday. But he said he was close to 100 percent.
The Lions have installed a zone running scheme this season. Johnson ran a similar scheme at Auburn and some zone in Cincinnati. Johnson knows quarterback Jon Kitna, a former Cincinnati teammate, and is a friend of right tackle George Foster.
Johnson will compete with two rookies - Smith, a third-round pick this year, and Marcus Thomas, whom the Lions claimed off waivers from San Diego on Sunday. The one-year contract gives Johnson an opportunity to earn a bigger deal next year.
"I've always been a hard worker, somebody who earns everything they get," Johnson said. "This is nothing to me. I've been doing this forever now. For me to go out and earn something, that's what I do, and I'm looking forward to doing it."
What about the Gucci bags?
Johnson said Bell stole them from the locker room Monday as Johnson was about to take Bell's job. Johnson said when the bags were returned Tuesday, they were empty - missing his identification, credit cards, about $200 in cash and some undergarments.
"All this happened once he got released," Johnson said Wednesday as he came off the practice field. "He came here to get some stuff out of his locker. That's when he scooped the bags up. Some real shyster, conniving stuff, man."
Bell said it was an honest mistake. He said he intended to pick up some bags for another former teammate, and he grabbed the wrong ones. He said he never opened the bags and doesn't have anything of Johnson's.
"I ain't no thief," Bell said in a phone interview. "I ain't never been one, and I ain't never going to be one. It was all a misunderstanding. You can ask anybody I played with for all my years or anybody that know me, man. They know I ain't never stolen nothing from nobody or had those kind of intentions."
Lions officials declined to comment.
SERIES HISTORY: 33rd meeting. Lions lead series, 23-9. The teams have met four times since 2002, and they split. The Lions won the last meeting in 2006, 30-14.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 — Lions rookies expected to start Sunday: running back Kevin Smith and fullback Jerome Felton.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm looking short-term. Tomorrow. I'm a short-term guy." - Coach Rod Marinelli on RB Rudi Johnson's long-term role.