On a 5-1 team riding a four-game winning streak, Devin Hester's recent questionable judgment on punt returns has become a concern -- maybe because almost everything else is going well.
"He made some decisions in that (Lions) game he would probably take back," said Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub. "He might have returned that last one possibly, but that's just the way it is. Most of the time he's going to make the correct decision. We just want him to get that aggressiveness back, and we think we'll get that sooner or later."
After being replaced as punt returner by Earl Bennett and Eric Weems midway through the Lions game, Hester returned in the final quarter and called for a fair catch when he had room to run.
But critics shouldn't forget that Hester has 6 combined kick-return touchdowns over the previous two seasons, including 5 on punts.
"That's probably the hardest position to play, punt returner," Toub said. "You've got to make a lot of decisions. You have to check the coverage ... hang time, is it a line drive or a short kick? You have to think fast on your feet. Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don't."
Something to prove:
Even though the Bears defeated the Panthers 34-29 at Soldier Field last season, it was considered a slap in the face to defensive personnel because Carolina had a whopping 543 yards of total offense. No other opponent had more than 395.
"The first thing you've got to do is win, no question about that," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "But coaches and players; we didn't get our job done we felt last year. You never look down your nose at a win. I'm going to give them a great deal of credit. Their running backs played extremely hard. So we're very aware of what they're capable of."
The Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 134 yards on just 18 carries (7.4-yard average). Quarterback Cam Newton has outrushed both of them this season wit 273 yards, and they're averaging a combined 3.8 yards per attempt. But linebacker Brian Urlacher still considers them dangerous.
"They're both a headache for you," Urlacher said. "Either one of them as a starter could have 1,500 yards on any team they play on. Either one of them could run it the distance on you."
By the numbers:
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has 41 receptions for 577 yards and 4 touchdowns. His receiving yards are the most by a Bear through the first six games since at least 1960.
"A lot of our passing offense is going to go through Brandon Marshall, and he knows that," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "So he's going to have his chances every week."
Marshall has 7 more catches than the other five wide receivers on the roster combined.
Quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs) was a full participant in Thursday's practice.
Tight end Brody Eldridge (ill) and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand), who has already been declared out for Sunday, did not practice Thursday.
The Lions list three defensive ends on their injury report, including starter Charles Johnson, who was limited with a hip injury and top backup Antwan Applewhite (thigh), who did not practice.