- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Excused from practice two days in a row for personal reasons, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher missed his sixth consecutive training camp workout on Tuesday, increasing the likelihood he won't play in Thursday's exhibition opener against the Denver Broncos.
Bears coach Lovie Smith also excused receiver/kick returner Devin Hester from practice Tuesday because of an illness.
"I know a lot of you are asking about Brian Urlacher," Smith said. "He's been excused again for personal reasons. When we have more information, Brian will be our (middle) linebacker this year and all kinds of other things out there. Devin Hester missed today. Guys are gonna miss some days from time to time for different reasons. Devin was a little sick today. He should be ready to go also."
Urlacher sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee more than seven months ago in the 2011 regular-season finale, and the team wants to take its time with putting Urlacher back out on the field. It's unclear however, whether the soreness Urlacher has experienced in his knee recently is directly related to his absences from the practice field over the last two days.
The team hasn't divulged any other information regarding Urlacher's absences, and continues to call them "personal." Smith didn't say whether Urlacher would miss the preseason opener. Given the fact the club plans to play the starters sparingly, it's unlikely the team would risk further injury to Urlacher's knee against the Broncos by subjecting him to contact.
In Hester's case, it's likely the team will monitor the receiver's health and allow him to play if he feels well enough. Asked whether Hester was experiencing flu-like symptoms, Smith said "something like that."
As for Urlacher, the condition of his knee remains a hot topic at training camp despite Smith declaring his confidence "about him playing this year," and the fact that more than a month remains before the Sept. 9 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. It's believed that if Urlacher wouldn't have experienced soreness in the knee, the club still would have limited his preseason work as a precautionary measure.
The club anticipated all along Urlacher would experience soreness throughout his recovery, and although starting strong side linebacker Nick Roach has taken repetitions at middle linebacker, Smith isn't expecting him to take over the role permanently.
"Brian's gonna be playing full time," Smith said.
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