LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi returned to the practice field Wednesday, but it's too early to determine his availability for the Nov. 7 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles coming off the bye.
A source with knowledge of the team's thinking cautioned against optimistic expectations for Carimi, saying the tackle has "practiced some" but "would not call it back [to 100 percent]."
That's not to say Carimi won't return for the Philadelphia game, but Bears coach Lovie Smith indicated it might be too early for the team to make a definitive decision, given the Bears are off this week.
"We make all those decisions. [Offensive line coach] Mike [Tice] of course will be a big part of it," Smith said. "Right now, we like the group we've had on the field the last couple of weeks. They've played good ball, and to be able to add a first-round draft pick that was playing great football before, that's a great position to be in. They'll tell us who will start, who we need to play and all those things."
Carimi hadn't practiced since partially dislocating his right kneecap against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 18.
It appears the plan might be to work Carimi back into the lineup gradually, an indication the Bears could go into the game after this week's bye with Chris Spencer playing right guard and Lance Louis playing right tackle.
Once the staff is confident in Carimi's recovery process he will return to the starting lineup with Louis moving back to right guard.
Smith said the team held out a few veterans and any other players with injuries, adding that when the team returns to practice next week "we should have everybody out on the football field," which also means the Bears will "have some tough decisions to make on game day."
Quarterback Jay Cutler said he'd welcome the return of Carimi, but has been encouraged by the process of the rookie's replacement.
"When we get Gabe back, we'll see what happens," Cutler said. "[Whether] he's gonna be back or not, the way those guys are playing right now with Lance and Chris at the right guard, they're playing well. We can build on that, and keep getting better."