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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:13AM
Leave it to Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice to utter what many feel.
Asked if he anticipates starting quarterback Jay Cutler playing Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Tice said, “God, I hope so.”
Tice swiftly noted that his sentiment was “not anything against Jason [Campbell].”
“Jason did a remarkable job based on the opportunities he was afforded,” Tice said. “But it would be great to get our guy back.”
Cutler got the Bears off to a 7-1 start before suffering a concussion in the second quarter of a 13-6 loss Nov. 11 to the Houston Texans. Campbell started Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers and struggled mightily behind an abysmal effort from his blockers. The 49ers sacked Campbell six times and pressured him on 11 other pass plays, and he completed 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards. He had a touchdown pass, two interceptions and two fumbles.
Cutler took a significant step toward returning to action Wednesday.
The team didn’t practice, but Cutler has been cleared to return to the field on a limited basis.
The Bears will take a look at Cutler in practice Thursday — their first of the week — then determine if he’s ready to get the final approval to play Sunday at Soldier Field.
“Before he can play, he has to be cleared by an independent neurologist,” coach Lovie Smith said, “and we’re not to that point.”
Smith informed Cutler and rookie defensive end Shea McClellin before any testing began in advance of the game against the 49ers that the team was “leaning toward” not playing them. Neither traveled with the Bears to San Francisco.
Cutler also pointed out that he has to be comfortable before he returns.
“You’ve got to go out on the field and make sure you can exert yourself,” Cutler said. “And it’s really just a personal thing, making sure you feel OK.”
Cutler applauded the team’s trainers and doctors.
“We’re going to make the right decision for my health, not only in the near future but lifetime going forward,” he said.
And while he and his fiancée, Kristin Cavallari, have welcomed a son into their lives, Cutler said that won’t change his approach to playing football.
Against a talented Vikings defensive line, the Bears’ offensive line will have to do a much better job of protecting the quarterback, whether it’s Cutler or Campbell.
“We need to play better on the offensive line,” Smith said. “After that performance, I can see why there would be a lot of concern. We’re going to do everything we can to improve.
“That’s all you can do. We’re going to put the best line we can out there after we’ve had the best week of practice. We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way — Jay, Jason or anybody else.”
The line, though, is in flux with one and possibly two changes to the starting unit.
Tice once again highlighted the struggles of 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi, who gave up three sacks against the 49ers. Veteran Jonathan Scott could replace Carimi at right tackle.
Meanwhile, the Bears flopped veterans at left guard for the second time this season.
Chris Spencer, who started the first two games there, will replace Chilo Rachal, who started the last eight. Rachal had a brutal performance against his former team, the 49ers, giving up one sack and a hurry and getting flagged for two holding penalties. On Wednesday afternoon, the Bears announced that Rachal left the team for “personal reasons” and was put on the reserve/left-squad list. According to a league source, the 49ers knew how to “get in [Rachal’s] head.’’
His roster spot was filled by undrafted rookie left tackle James Brown.