BOURBONNAIS -- Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was held out of practice Sunday for the fourth straight day.
"His knee is still a little sore," said Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get him back out here before long. But we'll take our time with Brian."
Urlacher suffered partial tears to the MCL (medial collateral ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee during the 2011 regular-season finale. His off-season activity was severely curtailed.
So there is some trepidation over any lengthy absence from practice with the season opener just more than a moth away, especially when it concerns a seven-time Pro Bowl player at a position that has little depth.
"There is always concern when you have an injury at the end of the year and you miss some time in the off-season, but he should be OK," Smith said. "It's not like he really hurt it anymore.
"You assume -- I assume -- he would have some soreness and he would miss a few of these training camp practices."
Urlacher is not expected to play in Thursday night's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field.
Asked about the possibility of an arthroscopic procedure to evaluate the injury, Smith said: "We're on top of his knee. When he's ready to go, he'll be back out there. That's about all we'll talk about."
Shuffling the deck:
With middle linebacker Brian Urlacher out since Thursday, strongside linebacker Nick Roach moves into the middle and unrestricted free agent Geno Hayes steps in on the strong side.
"He's done a good job," Urlacher said of his temporary fill-in. "He knows the defense really well. He can play all three positions."
Hayes started 42 games over the past three seasons for Tampa Bay, the Bucs playing a Cover-2 defense similar to the Bears.
"He played pretty much the same defense in Tampa," Urlacher said, "so he knows what's going on."
Asked about the perceived depth at linebacker behind the starters, seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs had a simple solution.
"Let's not get hurt," he said.
"But what if someone needs a rest?" Briggs was asked.
"We don't get rests," Briggs said. "I think we played close to 100 snaps against Denver last year. There was one group that didn't come off that field once -- that's us."
It actually was 79 plays but well above the 2011 average of 65.5.
Other injury news:
Running back Matt Forte suffered a thumb injury midway through practice and did not return to action, although h remained on the field.
Wide receiver Earl Bennett also was not active at the end of practice with a lower leg injury, and defensive end Julius Peppers also did not practice at all.
"Nothing serious with him," Lovie Smith said.
Wide receiver Eric Weems (ankle) did not participate for the fourth straight practice but "is getting better each day," Smith said.
Linebacker Jabara Williams (hamstring) missed his first practice.
Like most of his teammates, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher was surprised by fellow wideout Devin Thomas' decision Sunday to retire at 25, citing a lack of desire.
"It's different, something I haven't seen before," Sanzenbacher said. "But obviously we wish him the best in whatever it is he decides to do.
"It's understandable. Everybody's at a different point in their career has different things going on outside of football, different personal things. We don't know. Some people like to pursue other things."