LAKE FOREST – One by one, Jason Campbell planted his back foot, stepped forward in the pocket and fired spirals into the hands of his receivers Thursday at Halas Hall.
Brandon Marshall, right sideline. Devin Hester, left sideline. Earl Bennett, across the middle. Alshon Jeffery, left sideline.
Campbell’s repetitions with the first team spoke volumes, even if the Bears remained quiet about Jay Cutler’s availability for Monday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Four days after suffering a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit, Cutler was not on the field during the portion of practice that was open to news media members. The Bears have two practices remaining before they travel west for their fifth prime-time game of the season.
“He’s getting better,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Cutler, who has not spoken with reporters since his injury. “Don’t know if he’ll be able to go this week or not. He did not practice today. That’s about all I can really tell you.”
It’s nothing new for Smith and the Bears to be tight-lipped about the status of injured players. They went so far as to flip their weekly media schedule, having defensive players speak Thursday while having offensive players and coaches wait until at least today.
Amid the uncertainty, the 49ers have spent the week preparing for two quarterbacks.
“We don’t have much film to go on from Campbell,” 49ers defensive end Justin Smith said on a conference call with Bears reporters. “But [we’re] watching some of his other stuff, when he’s played. [We’re] preparing for Cutler, but we won’t be shocked if it’s Campbell back there.”
Even if Cutler is cleared to play, teammates said, they would understand a cautious approach.
The 49ers boast the league’s stingiest defense with 14.1 points allowed a game, and they have limited opposing quarterbacks to a subpar 77.2 passer rating in their first nine games. Second-year outside linebacker Aldon Smith is third in the NFL with 9˝ sacks, including one that jarred the ball loose from New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in Week 4.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to give Cutler a short rest so he can be healthy for the long haul.
“It is bigger than just this Monday,” Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said. “We do have a longer season, and we expect to be going deep into the playoffs. We’d love to have him this one game, but it is a long season, and we’re going to need him for it.”
Bears defensive end Israel Idonije agreed.
“I know he’s a fierce competitor,” Idonije said. “He’s a tough guy. If everything goes through and he’s ready to play, he’s going to play. He’ll get in the game and be effective for us and play well for us.
“But, like I’ve said, it’s a game. I don’t think at any time, as sharp of a guy as he is, that he’s willing to risk his livelihood for this one game. It’s a long season. We have plenty of games ahead that we need him for.”