Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will interview for the Bears' head coach job.

First off, I apologize for the lack of activity on DBN over the last couple of weeks. I left my laptop at home (where I'm back now) in Denver for a week as I visited my family in San Diego for the holidays, and I wanted to pay full attention to them instead of using my laptop constantly.

Anyway, by now you surely know that the Bears fired Lovie Smith on Monday morning after the team failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. I didn't have access to my laptop (I promise this isn't going to be a continuing theme) when the firing went down, otherwise I would've written a lot about it on here (I've tweeted much about the topic over the last two days, though).

But, I assume you understand why the nine-year Bears head coach was fired by general manager Phil Emery- The offense has been ranked in the bottom half of the league every year during Lovie's tenure; the Bears haven't been able to beat the Packers in recent seasons; the Bears started 7-1 this season and had an epic collapse to miss the playoffs; the Bears made the playoffs just three times over the nine seasons; Lovie made offensive coordinator hire after offensive coordinator hire with none of them producing quality results; etc.

And let me be clear- I have a ton of respect for Lovie Smith and think he's a very good NFL head coach. I would've been fine with keeping him around for another season, but I'm just fine with letting him go due to the reasons I stated above. You could make great arguments for each side.

Either way, there's no doubt that the team needs to become more offensive-minded, and after nine seasons of below-average offenses, you'd have to be pessimistic that there would be a major offensive jump anytime soon under the defensively-focused (but tremendously successful in that department) Lovie Smith.

And it should come as no surprise that two of the known candidates Emery is set to interview are currently NFL offensive coordinators. The first name to surface on Monday for an interview was Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy:

McCoy, 40, has served as the Broncos' offensive coordinator for the last four seasons, after being an assistant (such as quarterbacks coach for a few years) on the Carolina Panthers' staff from 2000-2008. The way he's been able to adapt with the Broncos' offense when having three different starting quarterbacks over the last few years in Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Peyton Manning, has been remarkable. The fact that he was able to keep the Broncos' offense successful with the 2011 mid-season switch from the pocket-passing Orton, to the running, crappy-throwing Tebow, was quite unbelievable (that team was even able to win a playoff game). And even though Peyton Manning is obviously the  No. 1 reason the Broncos offense is rolling right now, McCoy also deserves plenty of credit for the job he's doing.

The Arizona Cardinals are another team known to have an interview lined up with McCoy, but you'd have to think he'd highly prefer the Bears' job for a variety of reasons, with the most obvious reason being that the Bears have Jay Cutler, and the Cardinals' quarterback situation is a dumpster fire (and the 2013 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks also appears to be a dumpster fire). The Bears will interview McCoy this weekend here in the Denver area, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post.

The other offensive coordinator the Bears are said to have an interview planned with is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Sullivan:

Sullivan just concluded his first season as the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator, after spending the previous eight years with the New York Giants, where he served as the wide receivers coach for six years, and the quarterbacks coach in 2010 and 2011. So, he was Eli Manning's quarterback coach for their Super Bowl-winning 2011 season.

The Buccaneers finished ninth in the NFL for total offense in 2012. The passing game ranked 10th, and the running game ranked 15th. Oh, and Pro Football Talk adds this very cool nugget about Sullivan:
Sullivan graduated from the U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault schools after graduating from West Point and before going into coaching almost 20 years ago.
I'm going to go ahead and assume Sullivan's a no-nonsense dude that goes about his business quite seriously.  I wouldn't be surprised if he really impressed Emery in the interview.

The third known candidate the Bears will reportedly interview is Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. The Kansas City Chiefs, owners of the worst record of the 2012 NFL season and the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, will also interview Armstrong:

Here's Rotoworld's take on the Bears and Armstrong:
Largely unknown outside of league circles, Armstrong has been an NFL special teams coach since 1997. He was with the Bears from 1997-2000. He arrived in Atlanta alongside Mike Smith in 2008, and worked for Nick Saban in Miami. Unfortunately, we suspect Armstrong's interviews may be little more than Chicago and Kansas City's attempt to satisfy the "Rooney Rule."
If you're unfamiliar with the "Rooney Rule", it's a rule the NFL implemented in 2003 that requires teams to interview minority candidates. Armstrong is an African-American. It's hard to see Emery choosing a special teams coordinator to be the new coach, and if he did, wouldn't the one currently employed by the Bears be the most likely candidate? Dave Toub's long been considered a future NFL head coach, and is the best in the business when it comes to coaching special teams.

We'll have more on the Bears' head coaching search as information becomes available.

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Henry Melton could return for the Bears Sunday against the Cardinals.

In what has been a miserable month for the Bears on the injury front, there's actually some encouraging news to report following the Bears' practice on Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), defensive end Shea McClellin (knee), and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) were all able to participate in practice, although they were all listed as "limited" participants. And the Wednesday practice at Halas Hall was apparently just a "very light workout":
Still, it's a good sign that those players were on the field participating at all, especially given how early it is in the week. The Bears could really use every single one of them back for this must-win game.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) sat out practice, and is expected to miss the game, which is no surprise since the initial reports called for him missing at least 3 games. This would be the third game.

Right tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring) missed practice and sounds very questionable for the game. Gabe Carimi would be back to starting at right tackle if Scott can't go.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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With running back Michael Bush being placed on Injured Reserve, the Bears lose a terrific short-yardage back and goal-line back (along with just a very solid back in general). We saw how significant Bush's absence was in week 15 against the Packers, as running back Matt Forte was stuffed twice on carries at the Packers' one-yard line. Give Bush a couple of such chances, and he's almost always going to punch it in for six.

So, the Bears will need to figure out a way to convert short-yardage situations and goal-line situations without Bush for the remainder of the season. And that's not Matt Forte's, well... forte. He's a damn good running back, but has always struggled in short-yardage situations. It's why Chester Taylor got goal-line carries a few years ago. It's why Marion Barber got goal-line carries last year. And it's a big part of why the Bears signed Bush in the offseason.

Additionally, second-year running back Armando Allen is best-suited for the game of your prototypical "third-down back". Third and long draws, catch the ball out of the backfield, etc.

So what about Kahlil Bell, who just signed back with the Bears to take Bush's roster spot, as the short-yardage/goal-line back? It sounds like the  6'0", 219-pound back may get the chance to show he can be that guy on Sunday against the Cardinals in Arizona:

"That will be a decision that Tim Spencer and I will talk about (Thursday) when we put short yardage and goal line in - not trying to be avoiding your question - but (Thursday), when we put that in, we'll look at the plays that we're going to run and if Kahlil is in that role and he's better suited for that role," Tice said. "But that's certainly a possibility."
Source: ESPN Chicago

Jeff Dickerson adds in that ESPN Chicago article, "Although Bell has been known to fumble, he does have the reputation of being an aggressive runner who always displayed a knack for finding the end zone in live goal-line training camp drills."

Might as well see what Bell can do in the role.

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“Realize what the score is, we lost to them (the Green Bay Packers) again, but for us, yesterday’s game was a must game for the NFC North championship. But besides that it wasn’t a must game as far as what can happen with our season. This week we’re to that must game, I mean the tournament has begun for us, so it’s about Arizona as soon as the players get a chance to watch the video we have to find a way to get to 10-6 and see what happens.”
- Bears head coach Lovie Smith on Monday (Quote via @BradBiggs)

I get what Lovie Smith was trying to say with that quote, but saying the Packers game was not a "must game" was a poor choice of words that the media, and fans calling for Lovie's firing (note that I'm still on the fence), have predictably eaten up.

Technically, the point he's trying to make is correct, in that the Bears can still get in the playoffs by beating the Cardinals in Arizona and Lions in Detroit. However, even if they win those two games, they're also depending on other teams to help them out in order to make the playoffs. After starting 7-1, they (incredibly and sadly) no longer control their own destiny. So, it may turn out in the end that beating the Packers was not needed for the Bears to make the playoffs, but it certainly would've made the Bears' playoff chances much better.

As it stands with the NFC playoff picture, the Bears are on the outside looking in as we head into the week 16 games. Along with winning their next two games, what else would have to happen for the Bears to get a Wild Card spot?

Below are the scenarios, via ChicagoTribune.Com.

If the Bears finish 10-6, they will make the playoffs if any of the following happen:

A Vikings loss and a Giants loss.

A Vikings loss and two Seahawks losses.

A Giants loss and two Seahawks losses.

A Vikings loss and neither the Redskins nor Cowboys win out.

Two Seahawks losses and neither the Redskins nor Cowboys win out.

If the Bears finish 9-7, they can still get in, but it would take... 

Two losses by the Vikings, Giants and Cowboys.

Two losses by the Vikings, Giants and Redskins.

If the Vikings lose twice and the Cowboys finish second in the East after tiebreakers (there are numerous scenarios).

And here's the remaining schedules for each team alive in the NFC Wild Card race:

Bears (8-6): at Cardinals (5-9), at Lions (4-10).

Seahawks (9-5): vs. 49ers (10-3-1), vs. Rams (6-7-1).   

Vikings (8-6): at Texans (12-2), vs. Packers (10-4).  

Giants (8-6): at Ravens (9-5), vs. Eagles (4-10).  

Redskins (8-6): at Eagles (4-10), vs. Cowboys (8-6).

Cowboys (8-6): vs. Saints (6-8), at Redskins (8-6).

The Bears have two very winnable games against the Cardinals and Lions, but it's never easy on the road in the NFL. And it's not like the Bears are playing well enough of late to make you feel comfortable about their chances against any opponent right now. Add in the ridiculous amount of injuries they're dealing with, and winning these last two games definitely will be a big challenge.

But, let's say the Bears do win out to finish 10-6. What's the likelihood of the other teams getting to 10 wins?

The Seahawks are red-hot and undefeated at home. They should beat the Rams, and can absolutely beat the 49ers there. 10 or 11 wins seems likely for the Seahawks.

Even with how unreal Adrian Peterson is right now, it's hard to see the Vikings winning at the Texans, and the Packers will be favored in the week 17 game at Minnesota too. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has already said that he won't rest players over the final two games, and why would he? The Packers still have a great shot to get a top-two seed which would give them the all-important round one bye. Eight or nine wins seems likely for the Vikings.

The Giants are coming off a 34-0 loss at the Falcons, and have lost four of their last six games. However, we know the defending champs are capable of playing much better football, and they've certainly been in these situations before. You can pretty much mark down a win over the Eagles already, but the Ravens game in Baltimore will be a very tough one. The Ravens are also struggling lately, losing their last three games (although all three against quality opponents: Redskins, Steelers, and Broncos). Baltimore is still trying to win the AFC North, and like the Giants, are on a mission to get their team turned around. This will be a matchup of two struggling, but very talented teams, that will likely bring it all on Sunday. Consider that game a toss-up. Nine or 10 wins seems likely for the Giants.

Robert Griffin III's status is still in question after he suffered a sprained knee in week 14. But, fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins was able to lead the Redskins to a 38-21 victory over the Browns on Sunday. Even if RG3 can't go against the Eagles, you'd have to like the Redskins' chances against a disastrous Eagles team. The game against the Cowboys in week 17 is a pretty even matchup on paper, but I'd give the Redskins a slight edge at home. Also, I'll take RG3 (provided he's healthy by then) in a huge game over Tony Romo. Nine or 10 wins seems likely for the Redskins.

Along with the week 17 game in Washington, the Cowboys face the Saints in week 16 at home. You never know what Saints team you're getting, but they're obviously capable of beating anybody when they're on. And no doubt they were on in week 15, destroying the Buccaneers 41-0. The Cowboys could definitely lose both games, and they could definitely win both games. Anywhere from eight to 10 wins for the Cowboys.

Given the scenarios and remaining schedules for each team, it would appear the Bears' most realistic chance to get a playoff spot would be to win out (obviously), have the Vikings lose a game (very likely), and have the Ravens beat the Giants (flip a coin).

Another possibility that isn't too far-fetched, would be to win out, have the Vikings lose, have the Saints beat the Cowboys, and then the Cowboys beat the Redskins in DC.

Whatever the case, the Bears can't blame anybody but themselves for being in this position, and now can only worry about winning these next two games. But, Bears fans should also pay close attention to the games that the other NFC Wild Card contenders are playing, particularly the Giants-Ravens game... which will be on at the same time (4:25 PM ET) as the Bears-Cardinals game. So, that will likely be a very stressful three hours on Sunday.

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Another day, another key Bears player headed to Injured Reserve. The player this time? Running back Michael Bush:
Bush, 28, signed a four-year, $14 million contract with the Bears in the offseason after four productive seasons with the Raiders. The 6'1", 245-pound back ran for 411 yards over 114 carries (3.6 yards per carry), had five rushing touchdowns, and caught nine passes for 83 yards.

Bears general manager Phil Emery signed Bush for three reasons (although he'll probably never admit the first two reasons I've listed):

1. As an insurance policy in case Matt Forte were to hold out the 2012 season after all the drama over his contract.

2. To give Forte less leverage in his contract negotiations, as Bush is a starting-caliber back. Forte would eventually sign a four-year, $30.4 million deal with $13.8 million guaranteed, a deal considered a bargain at the time.

3. To be the Bears' primary goal-line and short-yardage back, two areas the team has greatly struggled at in the Forte era.

I personally don't think the Bears used Bush as much as they should have this season, another one of the many complaints I'd have about Mike Tice's first season as offensive coordinator. In ANY short-yardage situation, Bush should've been the running back in the game. That's where he excels. And on numerous occasions this season, Tice chose to get fancy or put another running back in the game, when just handing the ball to Bush and letting him plow up the middle is going to work most of the time.

Bush was active for Sunday's game against the Packers, but never saw the field. When Forte got two carries at the Packers' one-yard line (and was stuffed both times), it made you say, "So why is Bush even active if the Bears don't think he's healthy enough to get one yard?" Apparently, he was active only because the Bears didn't even have 46 healthy players to dress, and must've thought Bush was the most healthy of the group. It's puzzling that the Bears wouldn't have just placed Bush on Injured Reserve before the Packers' game so that they could sign a healthy body to put on the roster, but maybe they initially thought the rib injury wasn't too severe.

Now, the Bears are left with three running backs in Forte, Bell, and Armando Allen that struggle in short-yardage situations, which will just make the Bears' red-zone offense even more worrisome. Mike Tice is going to have to get a bit more creative (if he even can) with playcalls in short-yardage situations.

Bell, who started the season with the Bears, was released by the Jets last week after appearing in three games for them (but did not get a carry). For the Bears in 2012, the 26-year-old had 12 carries for 32 yards (2.7 AVG) and no touchdowns. Bell doesn't have a rushing touchdown in 131 career carries, but does have a rock-solid 4.5 average yards per carry. His main issue has been holding onto the ball, as he fumbled three times over 98 touches in 2011.

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The Bears didn't practice on Wednesday at Halas Hall as Lovie Smith opted to give the team an extra day of rest... and that's probably because over 20% of the roster would've been held out of practice anyway.

And keep in mind that on Wednesday, the Bears placed kicker Robbie Gould, safety Craig Steltz, and cornerback Sherrick McManis on Injured Reserve. So include them, and we're talking about 14 players that are dealing with injuries since the Vikings game on Sunday. Yikes.

The most important of the injuries we're monitoring is of course Jay Cutler's, which has been described as "whiplash". I've still been skeptical about the Bears' claim that whiplash is the only injury Cutler's dealing with, as that certainly looked like a concussion-inducing hit he took when it happened. But, the Bears' quarterback says he feels good and will be able to play on Sunday:
As for other Bears dealing with injuries, we can assume middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is out, as he was expected to miss at least three games with a grade 2 hamstring strain. Cornerback Tim Jennings separated his shoulder in week 13, and his hope was to be able to return for this week, but we should consider him very questionable to play at the moment. Wide receiver Earl Bennett suffered a concussion in week 13, and he'll have to get medically clearance from a neurologist in order to play Sunday, so consider him very questionable as well. We'll learn more about the other injuries in the next day or two.

But while the Bears have several players banged up, they can't use injuries as an excuse this week, as the Packers also could be without some key players. And on Wednesday, we learned of at least one Packers star that will be out for sure, and another one that is unlikely to play.

Woodson broke his collarbone in October, and had hoped to return for this game, but decided it was best for him to stay out of game action for at least one more week. The 36-year-old safety had an interception and five tackles when these teams met in week two at Lambeau Field.

Nelson has a hamstring injury, and his absence would be a big break for the Bears. The 6'3" wide receiver had 15 touchdowns in 2011, and is probably the Packers' best receiver, but Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb are no slouches themselves. Even if Nelson's out, the Bears are going to have their hands full trying to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack.

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Kicker Robbie Gould will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2012 season.

After two awful losses to the Seahawks and Vikings, the Bears now face quite a challenge to make the playoffs, when just a few weeks ago, the main concern was whether or not they would win the NFC North and possibly get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Injuries to key players certainly aren't helping the cause, and on Tuesday, the news only got worse on that front for the Bears as they prepare to face the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Kicker Robbie Gould, safety Craig Steltz, and cornerback Sherrick McManis were all placed on injured reserve, officially ending their seasons (including the playoffs).

The Bears have signed veteran kicker Olindo Mare to replace Gould, while wide receiver Joe Anderson was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, and linebacker Jerry Franklin was signed to the roster off the Cowboys' practice squad. Additionally, the Bears waived recently-signed veteran offensive lineman Andre Gurode, and signed guard Chris Riley back to the practice squad (after recently releasing him from it). Lots, and lots of roster moves... none of which the Bears really wanted to make.

Gould suffered a left calf injury against the Vikings, which forced the Bears to only use him on extra-point attempts. The Bears passed up a 53-yard field goal try in the game and chose to punt due to Gould's injury, and punter Adam Podlesh handled the kickoff duties.

The severity of Gould's calf injury is unknown, but clearly it's serious enough that the Bears didn't think he could play by week 17. While keeping two kickers on a 53-man roster would be a luxury and a half, Gould's value is certainly enough where I would do it if I knew he could return by week 17. He has the fifth-highest career field goal percentage (85.6%) among active NFL kickers, and is as clutch of a kicker as you'll ever find. He's nailed big kick after big kick for the Bears in his career. Look at the 46-yarder he drilled to put the Seahawks game into overtime as an example. When he's out there for such a kick, it feels like an almost certainty he's going to connect. The same can be said for only a few kickers to ever play the game.

The good news, though, is that Mare is no bum himself, although at 39, isn't the kicker he once was. Mare was an All-Pro in 1999 for the Dolphins, and was absolutely outstanding for the following two seasons. He's bounced around the league, with his most recent stop being with the Panthers in 2011, where he connected on 22 of 28 field goals (78.6%). He's no Robbie Gould, but he should be able to do a serviceable job at least (fingers crossed).

Steltz (or, as I like to call him, Rod Belding) suffered a pectoral injury against the Vikings, and according to Michael C. Wright, may need  surgery:

Steltz suffered a right pectoral injury that might require surgery to repair, according to a league source. He tried to keep playing after he sustained the injury late in the second quarter against the Vikings but was eventually ruled out for the remainder of the game and left the Metrodome with his right arm in a sling.
Steltz was a backup safety for the Bears, but the veteran's absence will particularly be missed on special teams coverage.

And that's the case even more for McManis, a cornerback on the team solely for his tremendous abilities in special teams coverage. McManis apparently suffered a PCL injury against the Vikings, but there's no details on how serious the injury is. Without Steltz and McManis, Dave Toub will have to find new players to step into important special teams roles.

Anderson was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Southern, and has impressed in training camp/preseason/practice. According to Brad Biggs, another team was going to sign Anderson off the Bears' practice squad had they not put him on the 53-man roster:
I've wanted the 6'1", 196-pound Anderson to get some game action, as he appears to have some big-play ability and good size at the wide receiver position. But I wouldn't bet on him getting more than a few snaps over the final three games, unless the Bears deal with more injuries at the wide receiver position (and given how things have gone over these last couple of months, that will probably happen).

Franklin, an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas, signed a two-year deal on Tuesday after spending time on the practice squad for the Broncos, Panthers, and Cowboys this season. The 6'1", 245-pound linebacker led Arkansas in tackles in each of his four seasons at the SEC school, finishing with over 100 tackles in his junior and senior seasons. He gives the Bears some depth at linebacker with Urlacher out, and the Bears' intentions may have been to evaluate him for a potential 2013 roster spot, with Urlacher's Bears' (and NFL) future very much up in the air.

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The Bears and Vikings released their official injury reports on Friday, as they prepare to square off for the second time in three weeks on Sunday in Minnesota.

For the Vikings, eight players are listed on the injury report as "probable" to play. So, it appears that everybody on their roster will be healthy enough to be active (keep in mind they placed star wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) on injured reserve this week, though).

The Bears, meanwhile, are very banged up. We informed you earlier in the week about middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) likely being out for at least the next three games, so it's no surprise that he's officially been ruled out for Sunday. Also ruled out for the game are cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) and Earl Bennett (concussion).

Jennings left Soldier Field with his arm in a sling following the Bears' loss to the Seahawks, and was seen in a sling at Halas Hall earlier in the week as well. Against the Vikings, Jennings' absence may not be a huge deal because of the Vikings' major struggles in the passing game. However, the Bears could badly use the NFL's interception leader against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers next week at Soldier Field.

There's no clear timetable for Jennings' return yet, but according to ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson, the cornerback "is not expected to miss significant time" :

Jennings will re-evaluate his injured shoulder next week and is not expected to miss significant time.
So, hopefully Jennings will be able to return for the Packers game. In the meantime, veteran Kelvin Hayden will start in Jennings' place at cornerback, with D.J. Moore stepping into the nickel back role. Moore's had a  knack for the big plays in the past for the Bears, but struggled in a few games this season and was a healthy inactive for two of the last three games. He has a great opportunity this week to prove he deserves to be active on gamedays going forward.

As for Bennett, the Bears' slot receiver suffered a concussion against the Seahawks, and apparently wasn't medically cleared by doctors to be able to play this week (or practice, even).

Ready for some good news? Me too. Bears wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester, are expected to play vs. the Vikings after they both missed the Seahawks game. The Bears desperately need Jeffery as they DESPERATELY need to find another quality option in the passing game outside of Brandon Marshall. Hester's struggles as a receiver have been well documented, but he still brings the Bears a vertical threat in the passing game that they haven't had outside of Marshall. I'd like to see the Bears throw him a bomb or two on Sunday to at least keep the defense honest, and to put that threat in the minds of the Packers as they gameplan for the showdown next week.

In other Bears injury news, running back Michael Bush (ribs), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot), and offensive guard Chris Spencer (knee) are all listed as "questionable" to play on Sunday.
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The Bears got some promising news on the injury front on Wednesday, as wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (hand) and Devin Hester (concussion) returned to practice.

Jeffery missed the previous two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, and was initially expected to miss 2-4 weeks. According to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs, Jeffery looked good running routes in practice on Wednesday, and looks on track to play Sunday vs. the Vikings:
Jeffery's return to game action would be huge for a Bears offense that could badly use another weapon in the passing game, as right now... it's pretty much just Brandon Marshall.

Hester's status would appear to be more up in the air, as it's unknown whether or not he's received medical clearance from a neurologist to play in the game yet. The fact that he's practicing is a very good sign, though.

As for the Vikings, they placed wide receiver and kick return star Percy Harvin (ankle) on injured reserve Wednesday, officially ending his season. As Rotoworld said, "He (Harvin) was a legit MVP candidate before going down."

Harvin is a gigantic loss for a Vikings offense that is getting very little out of their passing game.  If you can keep Adrian Peterson from having a monster game, you're likely going to keep the Vikings from scoring many points.

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Brian Urlacher is likely to miss the Bears' next three games, and possibly all four Bears regular-season games remaining, due to a grade 2 right hamstring strain suffered in overtime of the Bears' awful 23-17 loss vs. the Seahawks on Sunday:

The Bears have to brace themselves for the possibility of Brian Urlacher missing at least the rest of the regular season.  
Multiple sources told the Tribune that Urlacher won't play for the next three games at a minimum after suffering a Grade 2 right hamstring strain during Sunday's 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks. An MRI confirmed the severity of Urlacher's injury.
The Bears (8-4) have four more regular-season games, starting with Sunday's division matchup against the Vikings in Minnesota. Urlacher hopes to recover in time for the playoffs, which start with wild-card weekend games Jan. 5-6.
Source: Chicago Tribune

Nick Roach will take over at middle linebacker for Urlacher, while first-year Bears linebacker Geno Hayes will move into Roach's traditional strong-side linebacker position.

The Bears also signed middle linebacker Dom DeCicco to a two-year deal on Tuesday, and he'll likely be Roach's primary backup at middle linebacker. ChicagoBears.Com has more on DeCicco:

DeCicco appeared in all 16 games for the Bears last season as a rookie after arriving as an undrafted free agent from Pittsburgh, finishing second on the team with 17 special teams tackles. The 6-4, 230-pounder was waived by the Bears on Aug. 29.
Linebacker Patrick Trahan was waived (again) to make room for DeCicco on the 53-man roster.

Urlacher's loss will be felt more in terms of things like leadership, play recognition, and essentially "quarterbacking" the defense, than it will be felt from a a skills standpoint. Jeff Dickerson summed up very well what will especially be missed about the future Hall of Famer:
Urlacher's knee issues over the last year have clearly taken away a ton of his athleticism, and frankly he's looked very slow at times this year. The Bears may even look a bit faster on the field with Roach moving to the middle and Hayes moving into the lineup at the strong-side spot. But, there's no doubt that Urlacher's smarts and irreplaceable ability to captain the defense will be very missed.

While odds are the Bears still make the playoffs, it's certainly far from a given, especially with a tough remaining schedule and many key players dealing with injuries. And even if the Bears do make the playoffs, it's possible that Urlacher's hamstring is not healthy enough to play in the first game.

So, is it possible we've seen the last of No. 54 in a Bears uniform? Urlacher was asked about that on Tuesday night by Fox Chicago's Lou Canellis

Whatever the case, general manager Phil Emery needs to try to find Urlacher's potential successor in the offseason.

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Bears Need A Strong Gameplan For The Seahawks- Sam Householder nicely breaks down what the Bears need to do to beat the Seahawks. (Windy City Gridiron)

Know Your Opponent: Seattle Seahawks- Dan Durkin with an in-depth breakdown of the Seahawks. (CBS Chicago)

Analyzing The Seahawks' Offense For Week 13- Matt Eurich breaks down the Seahawks' offense. (Bears Backer)

Analyzing The Seahawks' Defense For Week 13- Eurich's breakdown of the Seahawks' defense. (Bears Backer)

Five Players To Watch- Matt Eurich's five Bears players to keep an eye on vs. the Seahawks. His five players: Edwin Williams, Brandon Marshall, Henry Melton, Gabe Carimi, and Jay Cutler.
Hard to argue with those choices, and Eurich provides great reasoning for each choice. If I had a couple Bears I'd recommend keeping an eye on, they would be Matt Forte and Eric Weems.

While Forte apparently looked fine this week in practice and is talking like he is, we won't really know how healthy he is until we see it in the game. The assumption has been that Forte may be limited, or at least have some snaps taken away by Michael Bush. But if he's feeling good and looking like his usual self out there, that would be a big boost to a Bears' offense facing a tough matchup, and would give Mike Tice more to work with in the play-calling department.

Weems will take the place of Hester in the return game, and will likely take the place of Hester at wide receiver as well (that was the case when Hester left the Vikings game with the concussion). The 5'9" Weems will likely get a lot of snaps on offense, and he has a chance to prove that he belongs as the #1 kick returner on the team, even when Hester returns. Hester's struggled as a returner this year, and Weems did a terrific job in the role in previous years with the Falcons. He brings much more north-south running than Hester does, and usually gets the team solid field position, while also having the ability to take one to the house as well.  (Bears Backer)

Durkin's Playbook: Defending Russell Wilson On Play-Action- Dan Durkin with an outstanding x's and o's breakdown of the Seahawks' ability to be dangerous in the play-action passing game. (CBS Chicago)
Carimi Can Salvage Bears Career & Offensive Line With Guard Move- Jeff Hughes: Now Gabe Carimi will start at right guard Sunday against the ferocious front of the Seattle Seahawks - one of the top defenses in all of the NFL. And as all eyes are fixed on him, Carimi will have an opportunity to salvage his once promising career in Chicago. If he can string together half a dozen solid games at guard, the Bears may have found a solid guard to pair with a healthy Lance Louis in 2013.   (Da Bears Blog)

Seahawks CBs Present Big Challenge For Marshall- And even more so for the other Bears' wide receivers, but as Bob LeGere points out, Marshall will actually be going up against cornerbacks that are near his size, for once:
"But today he’ll be up against the NFL’s biggest cornerbacks, the Seahawks’ 6-foot-4, 221-pound Brandon Browner and 6-foot-3, 195-pound Richard Sherman, who comprise one of the league’s best tandems."
The Bears' receivers vs. the Seahawks' secondary is  my biggest matchup concern going into this game. Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester are out, and the active receivers will likely be Marshall, Earl Benentt, Eric Weems, and Dane Sanzenbacher. 
Bennett's best utilized as a slot receiver, but having a 5'9" Weems or 5'11" Sanzenbacher going up against big Seattle cornerbacks on the outside isn't a very favorable matchup for the Bears, particularly in the big play department. This is a game where Jeffery's presence is greatly missed. And as much crap as Hester gets (and much deserved as a receiver), he still has the ability to stretch the field that Weems or Sanzenbacher don't. He's still a deep threat that defenses have to keep in mind. 
Seattle is surely going to do everything they can to minimize Marshall's production, and if they keep him from being a force as the Packers, Texans, and 49ers were able to, the Bears better be able to really get the running game going, and perhaps get a touchdown on defense or special teams. (The Daily Herald)

Bears' Reshuffled Offensive Line Has Some Promise- (CBS Chicago)

Get Some New Material, Jay Cutler's A Winner- "Cutler’s .730 winning percentage since Week-16 of the 2009 season is tied for fifth best among starting quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts). In Cutler’s last 15 starts, dating back to Week-6 of last season, the Bears are 13-2 (.867), second to Houston’s Matt Schaub (.875, 14-2) for highest winning percentage by an NFL starting QB during that time.

The Chicago Bears have compiled a 27-10 (.730) record in the last 37 regular season contests in which QB Jay Cutler has started, dating back to Week 16 of the 2009 season, including a 8-2 record in 2012. During that time, Cutler has completed 659 of 1,103 passing attempts (59.7 percent) for 8,144 yards, 57 touchdowns and 35 interceptions for an 86.6 passer rating."

Darren Doxey makes terrific points like you see above throughout his excellent piece directed at the Cutler haters. (Chicago Bears Huddle)

Four Downs- ESPN Chicago experts tackle four Bears topics with fact or fiction answers. Here are the topics, and I'll provide my own answers to the questions on here (but make sure to read their analysis as well).

1. The Bears Will Win The NFC North.


Really, I consider it a coin flip, but obviously in that scenario I'm going to side with the Bears instead of the Packers.

If the Bears lose today, I would say the Packers (who I can't see losing to the Vikings in Green Bay, especially with Percy Harvin out). But most likely, it will come down to who wins their game on December 16th at Soldier Field. And right now, I consider that a coin flip, too (assuming Jeffery is back).

2. The Bears Lose Nothing When Michael Bush Replaces Matt Forte. 


I think most everybody would agree with this. Bush is a starting-caliber back and excels in short-yardage, an area where Forte struggles. But Forte is the better all-around back, one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, and has the ability to hit the home run on occasion. The Bears can certainly get by with Bush, but he's not Forte.

3. The Bears' Offensive Line Will Be Significantly Weakened By The Loss Of Lance Louis.


And I'm not saying Louis won't be missed, because he definitely will be. He was the one consistently solid player on the line.

But I don't know if it's even very possible for this line to be "significantly weakened". They've played terribly for the most part. I think the line will be better as the year goes along than it's performed so far. But would it be even better if Louis were around? Certainly.

4. Brandon Marshall Is The Bears' MVP On Offense.


Generally, Cutler is the most valuable player on this entire team as we continue to see with how the Bears perform while he's out. But if we're basing it on the production this year from Bears' offensive players? It's Marshall, and it's not close. (ESPN Chicago)

Bears Prepare To Limit 'Beast Mode'- Stopping Marshawn Lynch is the No. 1 priority for the Bears' defense today. (ESPN Chicago)

Jay Cutler Picks Up 10K Fine- Jay Cutler was fined $10,000 by the NFL for flipping the ball at Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Yes, really. Ridiculous. (Bear Goggles On)

Expert Picks- (CBS Chicago)
Expert Picks- (ESPN Chicago)
Expert Picks (Chicago Sun-Times)
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We informed you about Bears running back Matt Forte (surprisingly) practicing on Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury against the Vikings. Forte reportedly looked "fine" in the practice, and on Thursday, the star running back said he'll indeed play on Sunday against the Seahawks at Soldier Field:

Very nice. Forte practiced again in limited fashion on Thursday, as did linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle), and Kellen Davis (ankle).

Missing practice were wide receiver Devin Hester (concussion), Chris Spencer (knee), Alshon Jeffery (knee), and Brian Urlacher (rest). Spencer and Jeffery were expected to miss this game, and Urlacher's just getting his usual day off to rest his bothersome knee.

As for Hester, it appears he still isn't very close to being medically cleared for the concussion he suffered against the Vikings :
UPDATE: As expected, Hester and Spencer will not play on Sunday:
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Given how bad Matt Forte's injury looked on Sunday against the Vikings, and with how gingerly he walked to the locker room (and stayed there for the remainder of the game), I immediately feared he would be out for awhile. And the announcement that the injury was on the same ankle he injured earlier in the season (and forced him to miss the Rams game) certainly made me assume that he would miss at least the Seahawks this week.

But, surprisingly, Forte was able to participate in practice on Wednesday, and apparently looked fine:

Excellent news. The Bears will certainly be careful with Forte, but right now you'd have to like his chances to be active on Sunday. Regardless, expect Michael Bush to still be a very big part of the gameplan.

The Bears are dealing with key injuries at the wide receiver position, as they're likely to be without Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester on Sunday (unless Hester is able to pass the concussion tests over the next few days; he wasn't even at practice on Wednesday). And Seattle has a terrific secondary. So, it would be wise for Mike Tice to really try to get the run game going. Having each Forte and Bush able to play would certainly help the chances of the Bears having success with that offensive gameplan.

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Last week, 2011 Bears first round pick Gabe Carimi was benched at right tackle in favor of veteran Jonathan Scott. But on Sunday against the Vikings, injuries to guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer forced the Bears to put Carimi in at right guard.

On Monday it was revealed that Lance Louis suffered at torn ACL on the cheap shot he took from Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, so his season is over (and he's looking at 8-10 months to recovery). And on Wednesday morning, ESPN Chicago's Michael Wright said he's hearing Spencer will likely be out 1-2 weeks.
So, with that knowledge, you'd immediately assume that Carimi would be back at right guard this week, at least while newly signed veteran Andre Gurode takes some time to learn the offense and get into game shape.  And Carimi indeed confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that (as of now) he will be starting at right guard on Sunday against the Seahawks:
It's to be assumed that Edwin Williams will be the starting left guard after he replaced Spencer at the position against the Vikings.

Carimi actually did a solid job in the game at right guard, and perhaps the position will end up being a better fit for him than right tackle was. He's a much better run blocker than pass blocker, and has the strength to handle the bigger bodies on the inside.

Jay Cutler was asked if he would have trouble seeing over Carimi, who's 6'7". Cutler responded with, "I don't care if he's (Carimi) 6'10". If he does his job, I'll find a way."

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I wasn't able to use a computer on Monday to write about Bears guard Lance Louis, but as I'm sure you've heard by now, Louis was diagnosed with a torn ACL and placed on injured reserve after taking a cheap shot from Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in the Bears' victory Sunday at Soldier Field. Louis was the Bears' starting right guard, and the Bears' most consistent offensive lineman. So, it's a huge loss for a struggling Bears offensive line.

And Louis was just one of many Bears suffer an injury on Sunday. Three stars in running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman, and linebacker Lance Briggs suffered ankle injuries. Additionally, wide receiver Devin Hester suffered a concussion, and Chris Spencer suffered a knee injury.

Forte's ankle injury looked bad at the time, but is not believed to be a severe injury. Still, with a very capable backup in Michael Bush at running back, the Bears will surely play it safe with Forte and let his ankle fully heal.

Tillman reportedly has a chipped bone in his right foot, but may be able to play through it against the Seahawks.

Briggs' injury is not believed to be serious, and it sounds like he left in a boot on Sunday as just a precautionary measure.

Hester will of course have to pass the concussion tests this week to be medically cleared to play on Sunday, so he should be considered very "questionable" to play at this point.

Spencer's MRI revealed some torn cartilage in his knee, and it sounds like he could miss a game or two.

Still, with Louis out for the season, and Spencer's status in question, the Bears are very thin on the offensive line. Edwin Williams stepped in for Spencer at left guard against the Vikings, but he came into the season as the third-string left guard (although he played decently for the Bears in 2011). Recently benched right tackle Gabe Carimi played his first snaps ever (I'm talking before he was even in the NFL) at right guard in replacement of Louis.

So, the Bears hosted several free-offensive lineman for a tryout at Halas Hall, and apparently liked what they saw in 33-year-old guard/center Andre Gurode, as they signed him to a contract on Tuesday.

Gurode appeared in five Pro Bowls as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, and has made 133 career starts. Five of those starts came last season as a member of the Ravens. Now, with his age and given that he was on the street all season, he's surely far away from his "Pro Bowl" status, but he still adds depth which the Bears desperately need right now. If Spencer is out for Sunday and perhaps more games, the only other backup at guard on the current roster is James Brown, an undrafted rookie free agent. And I doubt the Bears feel very comfortable about throwing Brown into game action just yet.

The Bears also released defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. Okoye had one sack on the season and was solid for the Bears over the previous two seasons (although he spent camp with the Buccaneers), but the Bears could afford to let him go given their tremendous depth at defensive tackle (Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Nate Collins, Matt Toeaina), and because they've been rotating defensive ends into the interior defensive line frequently on passing downs anyway. Additionally, Collins was more impressive than Okoye of late, and Toeaina is a run-stopping specialist that the Bears like to keep around for certain matchups. Okoye will be a fine addition to another team, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Bears were to show interest in him again in the future.

Now, you may notice that I didn't say the Bears released Okoye to "make room" for Gurode, and that's because the Bears' roster was at just 52 following the placement of Louis on injured reserve. And with that in mind... the Eagles made a headlining move today with the release of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin, who had a whopping 18 sacks in 2011. He's still played at a solid level in 2012, with 5.5 sacks in 11 games, but given his contract and the Eagles wanting to give young players some playing time during this embarrassing season of theirs, they chose to let the 32-year-old Babin go.

Naturally, many are wondering if the Bears will be interested in Babin (who would have to get by a lot of teams on waivers to even get to the Bears), but I personally doubt it given the fact they already have Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije, and Shea McClellin at defensive end. So, who would Babin take playing time from? Certainly not Peppers. Wootton is having a breakout season and was just promoted to starting opposite Peppers. Idonije is having a nice season and still getting a ton of snaps. McClellin is a first round pick and Phil Emery will want to give McClellin every chance to show the pick was a good one.

They always say you can never have enough quality depth on the defensive line, but in this situation, I just don't really see the Bears taking away playing time from their defensive ends to make room for Babin. But, who knows? It would give Rod Marinelli and Lovie Smith just more to do with this already highly-performing defense, so they certainly wouldn't complain. And again, the Bears have used their defensive ends at defensive tackle frequently on passing downs, so they may find a way to make this work without making anybody unhappy.

The Bears also made some moves with the practice squad on Tuesday, by signing guard Derek Dennis and wide receiver Dale Moss, while releasing guard Chris Riley and wide receiver Raymond Radway. Moss, an undrafted rookie, sounds like an intriguing, high-upside type, so he's a nice guy to stash on the practice squad. Here's some information on Moss from Pro Football Talk's Evan Silva in August when the Packers signed him:

Moss, the South Dakota State receiver, will be a player to follow in Packers camp. A four-year basketball player for the Jackrabbits, Moss used his extra year of eligibility to play football. He wound up leading South Dakota State in catches, yards, and touchdowns in 2011. 

Moss stands 6-foot-3, 213 and ran a 4.52 at the South Dakota Pro Day. More impressive were Moss’ explosive, 10-foot-10 broad jump, 41 1/2-inch vertical, and 4.13 short shuttle. He is an exceptional athlete.

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According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora and Chicago Sun-Times Bears beat writer Sean Jensen,  Jay Cutler (concussion) was cleared by an independent neurologist to play in the Bears' game Sunday against the Vikings at Soldier Field:

So, finally, some GREAT news for the Bears, in what's been a disastrous week. The Bears absolutely need Cutler to be playing if they want any hopes of making the playoffs.

As I wrote earlier in the week, "Right now, there's not a single game I'd pick the Bears to win the rest of the season with (Jason) Campbell as the starting quarterback behind this offensive line."

And as Rotoworld wrote about Cutler today, "he is one of the more undervalued players in the league. His return bodes well for the entire offense's outlook."

Cutler's had plenty of success against the Vikings in the past, putting together a 5-1 record with 15 touchdown passes, 6 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 100.8. The 15 touchdown passes are the most he's thrown against any team (stats and information via @ZachZaidman).

Vikings WR Percy Harvin has officially been ruled out for the game

While Cutler has been cleared to play in Sunday's game, Vikings star wide receiver Percy Harvin has been ruled out for the game:
Harvin is far and away the Vikings' best receiver and kick returner, and arguably the most explosive player in the entire league. He lines up all over the offense (even in the backfield on occasion), and really opens up what they're able to do. Without him, the Vikings' offense is even more dependent on Adrian Peterson to carry the load. So, his absence is a big, big break for the Bears.

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) was limited in practice again on Friday, and will be evaluated by an independent neurologist on Saturday in hopes of getting clearance to play vs. the Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Officially, Cutler is listed as "questionable" for the game, and Lovie Smith sounds optimistic about Cutler's chances of getting medically cleared:

Devin Hester and Matt Forte were impressed by Cutler in practice and are optimistic about his chances of getting cleared as well (although, to my knowledge, nearly of these guys serve as neurologists in the offseason):

So, keep your fingers crossed for Cutler getting cleared tomorrow by the neurologist. We may not know until Sunday morning if he's been cleared, as the Bears don't have to announce whether or not he'll play until 90 minutes before kickoff (12:00 PM CT). And the Bears may indeed take all that time to wait for the announcement, to keep the Vikings guessing.

Like Cutler, Bears rookie defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a concussion in the Bears' week 10 loss vs. the Texans, and the Bears announced on Friday that he has been cleared to play vs. the Vikings. Good news for the Bears and their 2012 first round pick.

In other Bears injury news, tight end Kellen Davis is "questionable" with an ankle injury, and you won't hear any Bears fans voice displeasure on the possibility of him missing Sunday's game. Way too many drops, and overall, an extremely disappointing season from the Bears' tight end. Still, if he could get it together (or at least improve at all), that would be a major boost to the Bears' passing game, particularly in the red zone (and especially with Alshon Jeffery out two+ games).

For the Vikings, they're likely to be without one of their top three players, as wide receiver Percy Harvin is listed as "doubtful" with an ankle injury. Harvin is by far the Vikings' best receiver, and one of the best kick returners in the NFL, so the Bears catch a big break that he'll likely be inactive. Rookie Jairus Wright would replace Harvin as the slot receiver, with Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson lined up on the outside. Add in a conservative quarterback in Christian Ponder, and it's hard to see the Vikings' passing offense producing many big plays in this game. The focus of the Bears' defense will certainly be to slow down Adrian Peterson and the Vikings' running game, which is no easy task.

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The Bears continue to make changes to their offensive line that was an absolute disaster on Monday night in San Francisco, and has been one of the worst units in the NFL this season (and the previous few seasons, too).

On Wednesday, the Bears benched Chilo Rachal in favor of Chris Spencer at left guard (Read much more about the Rachal saga here.) And on Thursday, the Bears finally made an in-house move at offensive tackle, by demoting Gabe Carimi and making veteran Jonathan Scott the starter

Carimi, the Bears' first round pick in 2011, has been highly disappointing in what has essentially been his rookie year, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury in week two of 2011. To be fair, he's been very good as a run-blocker, but his pass-blocking? Yikes; just downright awful. And his pass-blocking struggles were on full display Monday night against the 49ers. 
Rotoworld adds, "A bottom-10 tackle in Pro Football Focus' rankings, Carimi got flat out embarrassed by 49ers DE Aldon Smith in Monday night's loss, getting tossed around like a rag doll. Carimi is less than two years removed from being the No. 29 overall pick, but unless he's playing injured, there's simply no excuse for the way he performed in Week 11."

While most of the criticism from Bears fans has been aimed at J'Marcus Webb when it comes to the Bears' offensive line, Carimi has been the worse player. And that's not at all an endorsement in Webb, it just speaks to how badly Carimi's played this year. It's possible that Carimi's knee (which forced him to undergo two surgeries in 2011) is a part of the problem, and maybe it will never be what it was before the injury. But, he's still just 24, and much of the problem is just technique and bad habits he gets into, so there's definitely a chance he can make big improvements.

Carimi told the Chicago Tribune, "It’s obviously upsetting. I have a positive attitude about it. I’ll come back from this. I know it.”

So, Scott will start at right tackle now for the Bears, but there's no guarantee he'll do much better than Carimi either. The 29-year-old Scott is a 6'6", 318-pound journeyman, and was on the street for a reason when the Bears scooped him up as a free agent on September 10th. He's made 29 career starts, so he certainly has experience, but Rotoworld had this to say about him in August: "Scott appeared in 12 games for the Steelers last season, starting five, but was overwhelmed in pass protection. He's likely nearing the end of the line."

Carimi's performance certainly warranted a benching, and the Bears need to find any way they can to improve the offensive line, so I definitely agree with giving Scott a shot. I'm just limiting my expectations on how well he'll play, and I'd suggest you do the same.

The good news is that it would be very difficult for any NFL-worthy offensive lineman to play worse than Carimi has, so perhaps Scott will be at least a slight improvement at right tackle.

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UPDATE: The Bears have placed Chilo Rachal on the reserve/non-football injury list, meaning he is done playing for the Bears this season. And the free agent to be is likely done playing for the Bears again at all.

On Wednesday, the Bears announced that left guard Chilo Rachal left the team for "personal reasons", and was placed on the reserve/left squad list. It was later reported that the reason Rachal left the team was because he was unhappy about being benched in favor of left guard Chris Spencer:
Um, yeah... that's not a good look, and it would be hard to imagine Rachal playing another game for the Bears after that. However, Rachal has been through a lot off the field in the last few years, so it's possible the Bears chalk this up to Rachal's emotions getting the best of him, and give him another chance. We'll know for sure within five days:
Well, on Thursday morning, Rachal apparently showed up at Halas Hall (likely realizing his mistake, and desperate for the Bears to give him another chance), and his emotional state is reportedly "very bad":
Here's what Lovie Smith had to say when asked about Rachal on Thursday:
The Bears promoted rookie offensive lineman James Brown from the practice squad to replace Rachal on the active roster, and signed guard Chris Riley to take Brown's spot on the practice squad. Riley is 6'5", 305 pounds, and is a local product that played college football at Illinois State.

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