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Black and Blue all over: Hester's status cloudy

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
The Chicago Bears aren't shedding much light on receiver/kick returner Devin Hester's mysterious rib injury.

Multiple media outlets have reported Hester suffered some sort of strain at Carolina. Tests revealed no broken bones, according to the reports, and it seemed likely he would play Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Hester, however, was nowhere to be seen during practice Wednesday and coach Lovie Smith would only say: "Game time, if he's ready to go, he'll be on the field."

In the meantime, Danieal Manning worked on kickoff returns Wednesday and rookie Earl Bennett was one of the punt returners, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Nathan Vasher is another possibility as a punt returner.

Hester hasn't missed a game since joining the Bears in 2006, and for a team that relies so heavily upon its special teams for scoring, his availability is the biggest issue of the week.

Elsewhere around the NFC North this morning:

  • No one will confirm it for obvious reasons, but Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette is convinced the Packers will assign cornerback Al Harris to Dallas receiver Terrell Owens on Sunday night. Owens burned the Packers for seven receptions, 156 yards and one touchdown while matched up primarily against Harris in the teams' 2007 matchup.

  • The Packers don't plan to give Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo all day to throw. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you what we're doing exactly," said linebacker Nick Barnett, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. "But we've got some things that we're working on."

  • Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on his demotion Wednesday: "Obviously I wasn't happy, but coach feels like it's the best move for the team and I'm a team player."

  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune is convinced Vikings coach Brad Childress faced pressure to make the quarterback switch: "[You] would have to be very naive to believe what we saw Wednesday was anything less than a response to ownership's unhappiness with an 0-2 start in this season of high expectations -- and high expenses."

  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press joins in the conspiracy: "I'd still be curious to know how Childress went from declaring Jackson his starting quarterback on Sunday, to being not so sure on Monday, to benching him for the rest of the season on Wednesday. Maybe he took the game film to the IMAX theater and watched Tarvaris on a really, really huge screen. That could have done it."

  • Many Detroit fans are scratching their heads wondering how Lions castoff J.T. O'Sullivan could have emerged as the starting quarterback they will face Sunday at San Francisco. Current Lions starter Jon Kitna is not. "He's one of the best throwers of the football I've ever been around," Kitna said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

  • Lions third-string quarterback Drew Stanton has recovered from a strained ligament in his right thumb and is available to play if needed.