For the first time in more than a month, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to the practiced field Monday, fueling speculation that he will play in Sunday's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.
For the 10 minutes that practice is open to the media, Urlacher appeared to move well on his much-scrutinized left knee, which was scoped Aug. 14 with the intent of reducing soreness and swelling.
That has been a recurring problem since Urlacher suffered sprains of the MCL (medial collateral ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) in last year's season finale.
"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."
Actually Urlacher said nothing, briskly walking past reporters without breaking stride as he came off the practice field at Halas Hall.
"But we didn't have any trouble with him today," Smith said. "He's right on schedule, as (are) the rest of our players."
Nick Roach, who played in Urlacher's spot throughout the preseason, was back at his customary strongside position Monday and was asked if the eight-time Pro Bowler appeared rusty from inactivity.
"Not that I could tell," Roach said. "We're still a long way away from Sunday, but just having him back is definitely positive. He's back in the flow. He looks great, like he's good to go."
The knee injury prevented Urlacher from participating in any off-season work, he didn't play in any preseason games, and he practiced just five times during training camp, none since July 31.
But 12-year veteran guard Roberto Garza believes the 34-year-old Urlacher will be ready Sunday.
"Obviously, when he's on the field, he's ready to play," Garza said. "We know what he can do, what he's done and what he will do. He's on the field to play, and he's not going to put himself in a situation not to be successful."
Other injured Bears starters were back on the practice field Monday.
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea did his most extensive work since suffering a sprained ankle in the second preseason game and pronounced himself fit for Sunday.
"100 percent," he said. "I felt good. I'm healthy and ready to go. I was able to cut (and) do all those changes of direction."
Safety Chris Conte (shoulder) had not practiced since he was hurt in the second preseason game, and he is not as far along as Paea. But he hasn't been ruled out yet.
Asked about the possibility of Conte playing Sunday, Smith said, "I don't think that's beyond the realm of possibility at all."
In other words, expect to see Craig Steltz starting at free safety along with strong safety Major Wright.
Punter Adam Podlesh (hip) did not practice and is not expected to play vs. the Colts.
Undrafted rookie Ryan Quigley, who performed well as Podlesh's replacement in the final two preseason games, will handle the punting and holding chores for placekicks unless the Bears sign a veteran in the interim.
No. 3 running back Lorenzo Booker also did not practice after suffering a head injury late in the final preseason game.