LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith insisted Tuesday that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is on schedule to return to the practice field next week and play in the club's first regular-season game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Urlacher hasn't practiced since July 31 after he re-injured his left knee in practice. Urlacher hurt the same knee in the Bears' 2011 regular season finale at Minnesota and missed the entire offseason program while attempting to recover from that initial knee injury.
Urlacher underwent an arthroscopic clean-up procedure on Aug. 14 to correct the latest problem and has been a spectator at practice during the portions that are open to the media.
"Brian is making a lot of progress," Smith said. "It's kind of set up that way, for you guys not to see an awful lot (of what happens at practice). It wouldn't do me any good really to talk to you about that since we really don't want you to see an awful lot from there (the practice field). He's making progress, I will let you know that about him. Just like we said all along, I expect to see No. 54 out on the field next week in practice and playing against the Colts."
Nick Roach has filled in for Urlacher at middle linebacker up to this point in preseason and would be the starter against the Colts if Urlacher's recovery turns out to be slower than expected.
"Nick has done a great job, is a very good football player," Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "He doesn't make many mistakes and has great athletic ability. I've been pleased with his performance all training camp and all preseason. He plays very fast because he knows exactly what he's doing.
"There is no hesitation whether it's an assignment or alignment; whatever it may be Nick knows exactly what to do and where to go and that allows him to play fast mentally and allows him to play fast physical."
Besides Urlacher, cornerback Chris Conte (shoulder), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (knee), linebackers Geno Hayes (undisclosed) and Dom DeCicco (groin), punter Adam Podlesh (hip flexor), receiver Rashied Davis (undisclosed) and tight end Kellen Davis (illness) also sat out practice on Tuesday.