LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The Chicago Bears' belief that they have the depth to withstand injuries is being tested.
They officially ruled out return specialist and receiver Devin Hester and guard Chris Spencer for Sunday's game against Seattle.
The good news is that linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte made it clear they expect to be ready after injuring ankles against Minnesota, meaning the banged-up Bears will likely have at least two of their star players available.
Asked after practice on Thursday if he expects to play this week, Forte said, ``I do.''
Briggs made a similar vow earlier in the day. He's missed just four games in 10 seasons and has no intention of adding to that total this week.
``Four games. I don't plan on missing this week, either,'' the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker said.
Briggs and Forte practiced Thursday on a limited basis, as did star cornerback Charles Tillman, who left the Vikings game with an ankle injury.
``They're backbones of our defense, part of it,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, referring to Tillman and Briggs. ``Just great players, Pro Bowl players. It's important and their leadership is so important.''
The fact that they were back practicing certainly was a good sign. While Tillman did not make himself available for comment, Briggs had plenty to say during his weekly session at the podium with reporters.
``I feel good,'' he said. ``Getting better every day. Modern medicine.''
Sitting out is something Briggs rarely does. He missed two games in 2007 and one each in 2009 and 2010, but mostly he's been durable during his career.
The same goes for Forte, who hadn't missed a game until he sat out the final four last season because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He also missed one early this year because of a sprained right ankle.
Even if they get Briggs, Forte and Tillman back, the Bears (8-3) will still be short-handed as they try at least to maintain their one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.
They had to scramble on the offensive line this week after losing both starting guards against the Vikings. Besides Spencer going down, they lost right guard Lance Louis for the remainder of the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Gabe Carimi, who filled in at right guard for the first time once Louis went down, figures to get the nod there. The Bears could go with Edwin Williams at left guard for Spencer.
Either way, Forte said, running behind a revamped line won't change his approach.
``I've just got to trust those guys up front,'' he said. ``They're getting a lot of reps in practice right now so they know what to do in the game, and if we make mistakes in the game, go to the sideline and make adjustments so that we don't continue to make them.''
The offensive line play has been a big issue for the Bears all season. They made some changes following an ugly loss at San Francisco two weeks ago, with Carimi losing his starting job at right tackle to Jonathan Scott. Chilo Rachal left the team, and Spencer stepped back into a starting role at left guard before going down.
The blocking is a big reason why the Bears' offense ranks 30th overall, certainly not what they envisioned after trading for star receiver Brandon Marshall.
They've strayed from the run at times, although that wasn't the case against Minnesota. They rushed 39 times in that game, and that commitment helped open up the passing game even if they managed just 113 yards rushing.
The defense appears to be in better shape at the moment.
Even if Tillman or Briggs is unable to play, the Bears believe they have enough star power and depth to get by at least in the short term.
``I feel good about it,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ``We've got good backups. Kelvin (Hayden) did a good job last week when Peanut (Tillman) went out. Up front we're deep. At linebacker we made some good moves in the offseason. ... So I feel all right about our depth in most positions.''
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