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posted: 8/12/2012 7:46 PM

Sprained ankle slows Paea's bid at nose tackle

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BOURBONNAIS -- Stephen Paea, who had moved past Matt Toeaina as the No. 1 nose tackle, believes he'll be out 1-2 weeks with a sprained ankle, which he suffered at the end of Saturday's practice.

Paea, last year's second-round pick, came in healthy after off-season arthroscopic knee surgery, and he has been having an impressive camp. But, when he returns, he'll have to retake the spot from Toeaina.

"I just have to get my mind right," the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Paea said. "I worked too hard for this, and it comes down to in camp I get hurt. I have to play it by ear and see how it feels. It's competition every day. As far as I see it, I come back and I've got to compete for it again."

Bears coach Lovie Smith did not refer to the injury as a setback for Paea.

"We've seen enough," Smith said. "We like what he did at the end of the season last year. He's a good football player. Eventually we'll get him back out there, and he's going to play good ball for us this year."

Strong at safety:

Coaches are limiting strong safety Major Wright's practice reps after he tweaked his hamstring in the preseason opener. So veteran backup Craig Steltz took advantage of increased snaps with the first team Sunday by picking off a pair of passes.

"He's been around here a long time," Lovie Smith said about the fifth-year veteran from LSU. "All he does is continue to show up and play his role. He brings a lot of value to our team. Great special teams player and, when you're the backup safety, you need to be a core four-phase special teams player. He does that, but we would comfortable playing him at the free or the strong position. He's a coach on the field, all of those things, a valuable part of our team."

Steltz started five games at strong safety last season and was fourth in special teams tackles with 12.

Coach on the field:

With middle linebacker Brian Urlacher out, seven-time Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs becomes even more valuable with his 10 years' experience in the system.

"He really knows just about every call we're going to make each time," Lovie Smith said. "He's coming to us with a lot of ideas. You like when a player is that involved and knows the defense well enough to know what we should be doing and has great ideas. We always listen when it's a player like Lance."

Rookie drawing raves:

First-round pick Shea McClellin got snaps with the first team at Sunday's practice, and the defensive end continued to impress Lovie Smith. McClellin was one of the few Bears who played well in the preseason opener with a sack, 2 quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss.

"He came in and had a lot to learn, and he's doing that," Smith said. "Once you get in the game, your first action, and you see that, 'Hey, I can play this game,' it does give you a lot of confidence. He's a guy with confidence right now. He's going to help us win games this year."

Injuries piling up:

Linebacker Geno Hayes missed practice with an illness but is expected back today. Defensive tackle Brian Price left practice early with a neck stinger.

Hayes has been getting the first-team reps at strong-side linebacker since Nick Roach moved from that spot to fill in for Brian Urlacher in the middle. At Sunday's practice, last year's sixth-round pick, J.T. Thomas, played on the strong side with the ones. Thomas led the Bears with 7 tackles in the preseason opener.

Linebacker Dom DeCicco remains out with a groin injury, as did guard Chilo Rachal (general soreness) and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley (foot).

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