Bears still cautious of battered Dolphins

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- First impressions won’t lessen Chris Harris’ opinion of Miami Dolphins backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who appears set to start his first game of the season because of injuries to Chad Henne and Chad Pennington.

A former Carolina Panther, Harris played against Thigpen in 2008, and remembers the quarterback -- then with the Kansas City Chiefs -- doing “a good job” in a 34-0 rout, which is precisely why the Bears won’t alter preparation in this short week for Thursday night’s matchup against a battered Dolphins squad poised to be led by a backup.

“It doesn’t change at all,” Harris said. “He’s a pretty good quarterback.”

It doesn’t matter that in the game Harris recalls, Thigpen -- in limited action -- actually completed 50 percent of his attempts on the way to achieving a passer rating of 59.2. It’s also inconsequential to Chicago that Miami’s top offensive lineman (left tackle Jake Long) and best pass rusher (outside linebacker Cameron Wake) are nursing injuries. Overall the Dolphins are expected to list in the neighborhood of nine or 10 players on this week’s injury report.

Conversely, the Bears appear to be arguably the NFL’s most injury-free team. With the possible exception of cornerback Zack Bowman -- who missed the last three games recovering from a sprained foot, yet practiced all last week -- every player on the roster is expected to be available for Thursday’s contest, which the club goes into with just one day of full-fledged practice.

“I can’t say enough about the health of our team,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “When you start the season out with a certain group, and for the most part we have those guys [still] playing. It’s a short week, but we should be in pretty good shape going in. They’re under the same circumstances we are. Both of us have to move on, and we’ll be ready to go Thursday.”

Certainly, the Bears seem better equipped.

Pennington was placed on injured reserve Monday night. He had recently won back his starting job from Henne, but suffered his fourth career shoulder injury just two plays into Miami’s 29-17 win Sunday over Tennessee.

Filling in for the injured starter, Henne hurt his left knee in the third quarter, which paved the way for Thigpen to enter. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano confirmed Pennington would be out for the year, but left the door open for a possible Henne return against the Bears. Miami also signed 31-year old veteran Patrick Ramsey on Monday as insurance.

As for Long, the left tackle dislocated a shoulder against the Titans. Although Long intends to play against the Bears, he hasn’t yet been cleared medically by the Dolphins’ doctors. Sparano expressed optimism Monday about Long’s availability for Thursday night’s game, saying “Jake’s a pretty tough guy.” Long has never missed a game in his two-plus seasons, but there’s a question as to whether he’ll be cleared medically. Center Joe Berger, meanwhile, also missed snaps against the Titans with an undisclosed injury.

That doesn’t mean the Bears expect the Dolphins to throw the ball less frequently.

“They did throw the ball around this past game [with Thigpen coming in],” Harris said. “We’re just going to prepare. The best thing about the defense we play [is that] it’s not complicated. We can [go without watching] a lick of film and go out there and be productive. It’s just pretty much reading your keys and reacting.”

On the other side of the ball, Wake -- who leads Miami with 8½ sacks -- suffered a hip injury against the Titans, and is expected to be limited Tuesday at practice, but available for Thursday’s contest. Other more minor Dolphins injuries include safeties Chris Clemons (left knee), Yeremiah Bell (turf toe), and Tyrone Culver (ankle), and defensive end Kendall Langford (left ankle).

“It’s a challenge getting the body ready [to play two games in five days],” Bears center Olin Kreutz said. “But they’ve got the same thing.”

Only much worse.