Brian Urlacher iffy vs. Broncos

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher missed his fifth straight practice on Monday and appears doubtful to play in the Chicago Bears' preseason opener against the Denver Broncos on Thursday.

Urlacher wasn't on the field for practice on Monday because of what the team described as personal reasons. Newly acquired defensive tackle Brian Price also missed to attend to a personal matter, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith.

"Brian Urlacher is out and has a personal matter going on," Smith said. "He didn't practice today. So when he does practice we'll be able to tell you more about that. But right now, everything with Brian is like it was last time you saw him out here. He's making progress and we'll see once he gets back out on the football field."

Urlacher sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee 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.

Smith said the team expected Urlacher to experience soreness in the knee, which is what's transpired throughout training camp.

But the Bears want to lessen the chances for a setback by limiting Urlacher's practice repetitions and potential exposure to contact in the exhibition opener. Urlacher's initial timeframe for rehabilitation was close to three months, and medical personnel deemed surgery wasn't required.

Smith "wouldn't say that" his level of concern "is zero" about Urlacher's availability for the regular season.

"It's always a concern when you have an injury at the end of the year and you miss some time in the offseason," Smith said on Sunday. "But he should be OK. It's not like he really hurt it any more. I assumed he would have some soreness and he would miss a few of these training camp practices."

Considering the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts is more than a month away, the Bears remain optimistic about Urlacher's timeframe for full recovery. When Urlacher participated in workouts earlier in training camp, he didn't appear to be suffering ill effects from the injury and said the "knee feels good."

"I don't have any concern about his knee," said strong side linebacker Nick Roach, who has filled in at middle linebacker in Urlacher's absence. "I think Brian is one of the last guys that you'd have to worry about being ready. He'll be there if he can be."

Still it wouldn't come as a surprise if the Bears decided to keep Urlacher out of the first two preseason contests, perhaps the entire exhibition season. Starters typically play just a limited number of snaps in the first two exhibition outings. The third preseason game on Aug. 24 at the New York Giants might be the most telling indicator in Urlacher's recovery process because that contest is typically deemed somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener.

Starters typically don't play at all in the final exhibition game, and Smith downplayed the possibility of Urlacher needing arthroscopic surgery, while also expressing optimism the linebacker will be ready for the Sept. 9 opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

"Brian Urlacher missing a few days isn't gonna hurt an awful lot," Smith said. "We've got guys on schedule to be ready for the opening game of the season. So seeing a guy miss a little bit, don't put a whole lot into it. I just know that I feel pretty confident about him playing this year. Eventually, we'll get him out on the football field when he needs to be before we play the Colts."