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Thursday, February 23, 2012
Lovie: Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher healthy

By Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith updated the condition of quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher from the NFL combine on Thursday, saying both were completely healthy and expected to participate in the team's April offseason conditioning program.

Cutler missed the final six games with a fractured right thumb, while Urlacher sprained the MCL in his left knee during the season finale at Minnesota.

Smith said Cutler's "thumb is fine, so we don't see anything major as far as injuries we're going to have to deal with coming up." He characterized Urlacher as being "in perfect health."

"Before you know it, the offseason will be here," Smith said. "[I'm] excited about that."

The quarterback appears to share that sentiment, especially now that Smith has brought on Jeremy Bates as the quarterbacks coach. Asked about Cutler's reaction to the hiring of Bates, Smith said Cutler "was pretty pumped to say the least." Smith revealed that Cutler provided input during the initial search for the successor to Shane Day, who left the organization in January along with former offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Because of Cutler "having background with Jeremy [Bates], I talked to him a lot," Smith said. "I knew how he felt about him long before now. I thought he was just a natural fit to come in as our quarterbacks coach."

Bates worked with Cutler as the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos from 2007-08, and the duo combined for the seven-year veteran's only Pro Bowl season. Cutler passed for a career-high 4,526 yards in 2008 under Bates. Since then, Cutler's most productive season has yielded 3,666 yards through the air.

Cutler started throwing the football again in late December, according to a source close to the quarterback, and has played quite a bit of golf thus far this offseason with no complications stemming from the injury sustained Nov. 20 against the San Diego Chargers.

Cutler recently said he's been in contact with Bates, and plans to meet with the coaching staff next month.

As for Urlacher, Smith seemed somewhat irritated by continued talk of the linebacker's age. Urlacher turns 34 in May, and enters the final year of a five-year extension signed in 2008. But his production hasn't dipped.

Urlacher made his eighth Pro Bowl, and finished second on the team with 135 tackles. Smith indicated that Urlacher's sprained knee (which is now fully healed) and age are the least of the team's concerns moving into the 2012 season.

"For me, we have other concerns. That's not one of them," Smith said. "I just don't think that will really be an issue. You and I both will probably be long gone in retirement, and Brian will still be playing."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.