Jay Cutler 'getting better'

Updated: November 15, 2012, 10:47 AM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Jay Cutler "is getting better" Wednesday, but Smith didn't shed much light on Cutler's potential availability for Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith said the Bears "are still evaluating" Cutler, and defensive end Shea McClellin, who also suffered a concussion Sunday night in the loss to the Houston Texans.

"We will do everything possible to get him back up to par," Smith said of Cutler. "He's not gonna start practicing until he's completely healed and ready to go. That will all take care of itself."

In the team's locker room Wednesday, McClellin said he hasn't yet been cleared medically, and per league policy, isn't permitted to speak to the media.

Cutler, meanwhile, is "meeting with people, seeing medical staff, our trainers and all of that," Smith said. The coach expressed optimism about the prospects of the quarterback and the defensive end returning for the matchup with the 49ers, and cited the extra day of recovery time allotted to the players with the game set to kick off on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

If neither is available, Smith likes the club's contingency plan at quarterback. The Bears signed veteran Jason Campbell in the offseason to back up Cutler, who has suffered two concussions since 2010. The last time he suffered such an injury, Cutler missed a game.

The Bears put extra plans in place Tuesday when they signed veteran Josh McCown to serve as the No. 2 to Campbell.

"In this game, injuries happen and your backup has to be ready," Smith said. "We like our backup plan at the quarterback position. We brought him here for a situation like this if Jay can't go. Jason Campbell has played good football in the NFL."

The consensus in the locker room seems to be that Chicago is better off now than last season, when it lost five of six games with Caleb Hanie playing all but two contests down the stretch after Cutler suffered a season-ending broken thumb.

Center Roberto Garza said the team has "a lot of faith in Jason Campbell, and (what) he's proven in the past," adding that the change at quarterback won't affect preparation, in part because "he probably should he starting somewhere; he's that type of player."

The difference in the pre-snap cadence between Cutler and Campbell, Garza said, could be the most significant adjustment, but the players don't anticipate that being an issue after the backup played all of the second half Sunday against the Texans.

Second-year right tackle Gabe Carimi said he doesn't "notice any different mood around the locker room or in the meeting room" because of Cutler's anticipated absence.

"We are still confident that we can win this game," Carimi said.

The Bears won't return to the practice field until Thursday and aren't required to submit an injury report before that time because the game doesn't kick off until Monday. Smith declined to go into specifics about "each step (Cutler is taking in his recovery)."

Once the team practices again, Smith said "we can give you a little bit better of an idea of where he is then."

It wouldn't be a surprise if the Bears declared Cutler out for Sunday's game when they issue an injury report. Despite that anticipated absence, it's expected that rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery will make his return after missing the past five games with a fracture in his right hand.

Jeffery caught 14 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in five games before suffering the injury in the fourth quarter of the team's Oct. 7 win at Jacksonville.

Jeffery returned to the practice field on Friday but didn't play against the Texans. Although Jeffery was healthy enough to play, multiple sources told ESPNChicago.com the Bears would err on the side of caution for the Texans game before bringing back the receiver for the matchup with the 49ers.

"He's been out for a while," Smith said. "He's getting better. So I can't wait to get on the practice field and see exactly where we are."

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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