By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — The image of Brian Urlacher lunging forward in a helmet and shoulders pads was something the rest of the Bears sorely missed.
It was a much more pleasant view than seeing him stand on the sideline in a floppy hat.
“Definitely great to have the captain and the leader of the defense back,” safety Major Wright said. “He looked good … really good.”
Urlacher, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 14, made good on his vow to practice Monday as he took part in individual drills during the short portion of practice open to the media. The eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker did not address reporters after practice.
The Bears aren’t required to file an injury report until Wednesday, so it is unclear how extensive Urlacher’s workload was during Monday’s practice in shorts. On Sunday, he told the Chicago Tribune he expected to have limited reps in practice but play a normal amount of reps in the season opener against the Colts. One team member said Urlacher was on the field “every time I looked up” Monday.
Bears coach Lovie Smith made it sound as if Urlacher had full participation.
“He did everything we asked him to do,” Smith said. “He was one of the guys. He forgot that he’s been out. … Today was back to the normal routine as much as anything.”
Urlacher wasn’t the only defensive player back in action Monday. Starting free safety Chris Conte, who dislocated his right shoulder in an Aug. 18 exhibition game against the Redskins, returned to the field despite having his shoulder heavily wrapped before practice. Conte previously announced his intention to play in the opener. Craig Steltz would start next to Wright if Conte is unavailable.
Smith was asked about Conte’s playing status for the Colts.
“We think all of our players are about where they should be,” Smith said. “The first game you would like to have all of your guys ready. We’ll see how it goes.”
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who had been sidelined since spraining his left ankle at training camp Aug. 11, seemed to have his explosiveness during defensive line drills. Matt Toeaina remained with the first team at nose tackle despite Paea’s return.
“I feel good. I’m healthy and ready to go,” Paea said. “Individual (drills), team (drills) … being able to cut and do all those changes of direction, I’m feeling good.”
The entire defense would feel much better with Urlacher at full speed. He admitted Sunday his knee is unlikely to ever be back to normal following multiple procedures.
If Urlacher has a setback, Nick Roach would start at middle linebacker. Geno Hayes would slide into Roach’s starting spot at strong-side linebacker.
“He’s back in the flow,” Roach said of Urlacher, “ … like he’s good to go.”