Matt Forte returns to practice

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte practiced Wednesday for the first time since suffering a sprained right ankle on Sept. 13 in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, and he expects to play Monday night when the team faces the Dallas Cowboys.

Asked whether he thinks he'll be ready to play, Forte said, "Yeah."

Forte said he's not surprised at the rapid improvement of his ankle. Forte participated during the individual portion of practice that the media is typically allowed to view. During the period, Forte worked on blocking drills, ran routes and sprinted. He didn't appear to be fighting through any residual effects from the injury.

As part of his recovery, Forte slept in a hyperbaric chamber and borrowed an ARP (Accelerated Recovery Performance) Machine from cornerback Charles Tillman, which the running back used extensively. ARP machines typically cost in the $14,000 range and are designed to stimulate the nervous system, which in turn helps along the healing process. In addition to treatment of injuries, athletes typically use ARP machines -- which aren't issued by teams -- to stretch and strengthen muscles.

"Yeah, I have one of those (hyperbaric chambers). I've been sleeping in that. That deals a lot with the soreness and stuff and (I used) ARP machines and that stuff," Forte said. "I borrowed Peanut Tillman's ARP machine. So he's kind of helped me out in that aspect. I don't sleep in (the hyperbaric chamber) at night. I just get in it for a couple of hours and just use the pure oxygen. It's supposed to help heal faster."

Bears coach Lovie Smith repeatedly said last week that Forte was "getting better" and expressed the same sentiment Wednesday after practice while cautioning against becoming overly optimistic about the running back's prospects for returning against the Cowboys.

Because the game doesn't take place until Monday night, the Bears aren't required by the NFL to issue an injury report. It's also worth noting that Smith, like most coaches around the league, is evasive about disclosing injury information.

"We have said he's making progress every day, which he is, and no more than that," Smith said. "But I would hold off ... he's got a long way to go still. But he's making progress, and hopefully we can get him out there."

The possible return of Forte may come as relief for the Bears considering the uncertainty concerning the running back position. Smith acknowledged Monday that backup running back Michael Bush took some hard shots against the St. Louis Rams, but didn't disclose whether he suffered an injury during the victory.

The team's decision to bring in former Packers running back Ryan Grant -- who opted to sign with the Redskins -- on Tuesday for a workout could be seen as a sign the staff is concerned about depth at the position.

Shortly after suffering the ankle injury, Forte said he knew he'd return quickly "based on how I was reacting."

"I didn't really swell up. That's a big part when you have an ankle injury, when the swelling is big it takes a long time to get it out," Forte said. "But I didn't really swell up. So I felt like I'd be back pretty soon."

Forte pointed out that he's suffered ankle injuries in the past and "know(s) how to work with them."

"It's just (that) you have to want to get back on the field," he said.

In other practice news, right tackle Gabe Carimi missed Wednesday's workout in observance of Yom Kippur while defensive end Julius Peppers was held out as he continues to deal with plantar fasciitis. Linebacker Brian Urlacher participated in Wednesday's practice, but it's unknown whether he worked in a limited capacity.

Smith has said in the past that the club plans to monitor Urlacher's repetitions as he continues to work his way back from August arthroscopic knee surgery.

"We had everybody out here today," Smith said. "Of course you know I'm not going to talk about who practiced and all that. Tomorrow, I will though, and we'll be willing to tell you all about tomorrow's practice."