The Bears hope Lance Briggs has more success as a player than he did as a coach.
While he was sidelined the past seven weeks with a fractured shoulder, Briggs helped tutor rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, who were rushed into the starting lineup ahead of schedule.
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But Briggs' tutelage couldn't prevent the defense from plummeting to the bottom of the NFL against the run. Now, his presence on the field couldn't come at a better time, since Sunday's opponent is the Eagles, who lead the NFL in rushing yards and average yards per rush.
Briggs hasn't yet been medically cleared to return to the playing field. But "based on the first two days of practice, we're really hopeful that he'll be able to play on Sunday night," coach Marc Trestman said.
Even though it's expected that Briggs will be limited to part-time duty after more than two months away, his return should be an early Christmas present for a unit that doesn't match up very well against the Eagles on paper.
"If Lance has a chance to play, I think that lifts our football team," Trestman said. "How much he'll play, I don't know. But the type of player he is, whatever that might be, I think that lifts our football team to some degree."
The seven-time Pro Bowl weak-side 'backer has been exceptionally durable throughout his 11-year career. Briggs had missed just four games in his first 10 seasons, so the prolonged inactivity was a difficult adjustment.
"As a football player, (you're) just feeling helpless not being able to do anything, not able to run, not able to lift, not able to do anything, just heal," Briggs said. "That's been kind of tough."
It remains to be seen how Briggs will hold up conditioning-wise against an Eagles offense that runs plays at a more frantic pace than any team in the NFL.
"It's going to be strap it on and see what happens," Briggs said. "I've been playing football for a long time, and it just so happens that we're going against a team that runs 80 plays a game offensively, so that'll be interesting."
While conditioning might be a concern for Briggs, gap and assignment integrity will not. Briggs has led the Bears in tackles in five seasons and finished second four times. Even after missing seven games, he's still fourth this year with 75.
"I like to think I'm a guy who's going to get in his gap and when the opportunity's there, try to make (the tackle)," he said. "Hopefully I can help the team."
As Briggs pointed out, the defense has made some strides of late. Last week it allowed just 17 points (Bears offensive turnovers accounted for 14 Browns points), and there has been a modicum of stability on a D-line that had been a revolving door because of injuries.
That was some solace for Briggs, who said he felt helpless throughout the previous two months, as his recovery process took longer than he expected.
"You get to the point where you get tested, and your strength isn't where it's supposed to be, or my bone is not healing the way it's supposed to," he said. "There was some talk of going on I.R., but that didn't happen, and I'm here now. Now, I just want to play football."
Briggs had never missed more than two games in a row and, although he kept it from his teammates and coaches, he was frustrated by the futility of his situation.
"It's rough," he said. "I sat at home, and I thought for a long time. Then I got up, and I went and got another cookie, and then I came back and sat down and thought longer. There's a lot of thinking, a lot of coaching, a lot of being around guys and trying to help motivate and just moving around."
But, finally, barring any setbacks, Briggs will be back where he can do the Bears the most good -- on the field.
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