LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher expects to start Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, despite reportedly having undergone multiple procedures on his left knee that forced him off the practice field for the entire offseason program and the bulk of training camp.
The middle linebacker returned to the practice field on Monday for the first time in over a month after he re-injured the knee a couple of days into the start of training camp.
"He had a good first day back," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "He's got to get in shape, I'm sure he'll tell you that. But we didn't have any trouble with him today so he's right back on schedule."
"He did everything we asked him to do. He was one of the guys. You forgot that he's been out. When we're playing No. 54 has been out there for so long, today it was just back to the normal routine as much as anything."
Urlacher told WFLD-Channel 32's "The Final Word" that even though his left knee "isn't the same anymore" and "will never be the same," he plans to return in time for the regular-season opener.
"I'm playing Sunday," Urlacher said. "That's a done deal."
Fellow linebacker Nick Roach said Urlacher didn't appear to be rusty after being forced to miss so much time due to the knee injury. Roach had filled in for Urlacher at middle linebacker during the preseason but will move back over to strong side linebacker when Urlacher is ready to reclaim his customary spot in the starting lineup.
"It was great to have him back," Roach said. "I know he's feeling good, he's looking good, so we're glad to have him. It's big-time (to have Urlacher back). He's one of our captains, one of our playmakers ever since he's been here. So just to have him back on the field knowing that he's ready to go is big."
Urlacher, who sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee during the 2011 regular-season finale, underwent an arthroscopic clean-up procedure on Aug. 14. The Chicago Tribune has reported that Urlacher traveled overseas seeking treatment that didn't involve surgery for his injured knee before having the scope.
"(The left knee) feels much better now," Urlacher said. "I have been running around quite a bit, not with the team in practice, I have been taking it really slow like Coach Smith said we would. Everything they are going to let me do, I'll do. There is going to be some restrictions on what I can do because they don't want to overwork me too early. It's a long season. There will be some restrictions but there won't be restrictions in the game on Sunday."
Urlacher disputed the notion he should wait to return until the Bears travel to Green Bay on Sept. 13 to make his regular-season debut. Many have suggested it would be more beneficial for Urlacher to rest the knee an extra week instead of playing on a short-turnaround.
"I don't see why (I would wait)," Urlacher said. "We have a day off Monday (before the Packers game) and our practices before that game will be quick anyway. There is not a whole lot that is going to happen. We already have our game plan in, I think. Because we play Green Bay twice a year, we know what they're doing, they know what we're doing. There shouldn't be a whole lot of game-planning going on."
Bears starting nickel back D.J. Moore said he was "excited" to get Urlacher back on the defense.
"To have him on the field, teams just look at you different," he said. "This is not a knock on Nick. But when Nick is in there teams may have a little more confidence going against us. So to have (Urlacher) out there, 6-foot-4, white chocolate out there ... it's exciting to have him out there."
Since the Bears selected Urlacher in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft, the 34-year old linebacker has missed a total of 24 regular season games, but none since 2009.
Urlacher wasn't the only defensive starter the club welcomed back on Monday as free safety Chris Conte (shoulder) and defensive tackle Stephen Paea (ankle) both returned to action after sitting out the final weeks of the preseason.