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Urlacher back at practice, shoots to play in opener

Associated Press

9/3/2012 6:04:23 PM

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to practice Monday for the first time since July 31, hoping to play in Sunday's season opener.

Urlacher did not stop to talk to reporters, but coach Lovie Smith said the eight-time Pro Bowl player looked good considering he had arthroscopic surgery to his left knee Aug. 14.

"He had a good first day back," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's got to get in shape. I'm sure he'll tell you that and a few other things like that. But we didn't have any trouble with him today. He's right on schedule."

Urlacher did talk to Fox TV before Monday about his condition and said, "I'm playing Sunday. That's a done deal."

However, Urlacher also said the knee will not be 100 per cent. "I will be as close to it as I can be," he said. "I have been doing some things. I've been in the pool. I have been running with our trainers and stuff on the side. But it's hard to get in shape in a week of practice. It's not possible. But I will get as close as I can to it."

Bears players liked what they saw of Urlacher in practice.

"He's back in the flow," linebacker Nick Roach said. "We're still a long way away from Sunday, but just having him back is definitely positive."

With Urlacher back, defensive players returned to their normal routine. Roach moved from the middle back to his regular starting spot on the strong side.

Beyond Urlacher, the Bears also had starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea back from an ankle injury and starting safety Chris Conte returning from a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who signed early Monday, worked, and defensive tackle Brian Price was cut when Okoye signed.

Okoye had four sacks for the Bears last year, but left in free agency for Tampa on a one-year, $2 million contract. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and reached an injury settlement when he was cut by the Bucs on Friday. The Bears gave him a physical and are convinced he can help as a backup to Henry Melton.

"Amobi is one of our guys," Smith said. "There was disappointment when he signed with the Bucs. He's a young football player.

"Everybody was excited about getting him back. I know he's been injured before down there, but he had a good day of practice today."

Okoye said his knee has healed completely after he tried to come back too soon. He immediately felt a part of the Bears' defence.

"It fits like a glove," he said. "Being here last year and knowing what I like to do, and what this defence asks of me to do, it's perfect."

The Bears had acquired Price from Tampa Bay in July for a 2013 draft pick. But he struggled coming off a leg injury and sustained a head injury in the final preseason game -- the latest blow for a player who's had a rough time.

Two brothers were killed in shootings in Los Angeles while he was growing up. His sister died in a car accident in May, and he and his wife decided to adopt her children. There were also reports of a fight with rookie safety Mark Barron -- a first-round pick this year -- in a team meeting room, an altercation that occurred a few weeks after Price was hospitalized for several days for mental and physical exhaustion following his sister's death.

A second-round pick in 2010, Price, 23, played in 20 games with the Bucs, producing 27 tackles and three sacks.