Concussed Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is questionable for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings after practicing on a limited basis for the second straight day, and the Bears are hopeful he will start.
"Jay is getting better," coach Lovie Smith said. "He was able to do more (Friday) than he did (Thursday). He's looking good."
An independent neurologist still must evaluate Cutler before he can be cleared to play. That evaluation is expected to happen sometime today.
"He has progressed, which we wanted him to do," Smith said. "It's looking good. One more step to get him evaluated by an independent neurologist."
Teammates are confident Cutler will return after practicing well the week after sitting out the San Francisco 49ers game.
"He looked good," running back Matt Forte said. "He should play. It's always good to have the starter back. Jay's very comfortable in this offense, and in the passing game especially, so we have to get the running game going to help out the passing game."
Backup quarterback Jason Campbell (ribs) went through a full practice for the first time this week and is probable, as are wide receiver Brandon Marshall (shoulder), defensive tackles Stephen Paea (shoulder) and Matt Toeaina (calf), linebacker Lance Briggs (thumb), guard Lance Louis (ankle), defensive end Julius Peppers (thigh) and defensive end Shea McClellin (concussion), who has been cleared to play.
Tight end Kellen Davis (ankle) was limited in his first practice of the week and is questionable.
For the Vikings, wide receiver Percy Harvin remained unable to practice and is doubtful. Guard Charlie Johnson (toe) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (foot) are questionable.
Best man wins:
It remains to be seen if Corey Wootton continues to start ahead of Israel Idonije at left end for the Bears, as he did last week. But the two had almost identical playing time at San Francisco.
Wootton played 40 snaps, and Idonije played 38 downs. While Wootton was the starter in the base defense, Idonije was the starter in nickel situations.
Wootton is tied for second on the team with 2 forced fumbles and tied for third with 8 quarterback pressures.
"He's just getting better and better," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's done a really nice job, and 'Izzy' has, too."
Even though the playing time is similar, Marinelli says it still matters who starts.
"Certainly guys compete; 'hey, I want that base (starting job) back,'" he said. "So play better than him. The competition's good."
Offensive coordinator's Mike Tice's play-calling obviously is affected by how much extra help he has to provide for linemen struggling in pass protection.
"You can (only) get so many guys out there (as receivers), and that puts the quarterback and the guys that have to win (matchups against coverage) in a bind," Tice said. "You can't help on both sides all the time. You've got to pick your poison.
"Who has the better chance to win the most battles? That's the guy who gets the least amount of help. That's how it's got to work, and that's fine."
Even the defensive line, which has played exceptionally well most of the season, was not immune from last week's punishing win by San Francisco.
But defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli expects the group to rebound from adversity.
"They have tremendous pride," Marinelli said. "Nobody takes that (loss) well. But if a bunch of men are going to bounce back, it's these guys. We'll bounce back. That's what we do."
They're all big:
Running back Matt Forte agrees this week is a "must win," for the Bears but points out the redundancy of the term.
"Every game is must win," Forte said. "I don't know why people say: 'Is this a must win?' Every game is. You're supposed to win every game, or at least try to."