Bears' Smith expects Vasher to be ready after bye week
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The pins that were surgically inserted into his right wrist are gone, and Nathan Vasher was "feeling pretty good."
Good enough to play when the Chicago Bears host Detroit following the bye?
Coach Lovie Smith said they "expect" him to be ready, although Vasher wasn't making any promises Thursday. When he does return, there's no guarantee he'll still be starting at cornerback.
"We don't have to decide those things right now," Smith said. "We have plenty of spots for a good football player. We would like four or five good cornerbacks who could play, for or five good safeties at every position. We would find a way to play them all."
Right now, they need able bodies.
Vasher has missed three straight games and wasn't even at Soldier Field for the Bears' 48-41 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. Instead, he went to the hospital for swelling in his hand.
The latest additions: Corey Graham and rookie Zackary Bowman.
Graham, who has started in Vasher's place, got knocked woozy and a season-ending biceps injury spoiled an impressive debut for Bowman. A fifth-round pick from Nebraska, Bowman recovered a muffed punt in the end zone and sealed the win with a late interception -- one of four against Gus Frerotte. But it will be his last appearance for a while, now that he's on injured reserve.
Vasher, meanwhile, shrugged off the trip to the hospital, saying he was there less than 24 hours.
"I just had to get medicine," he said. "My hand swelled up a little bit. That was basically it."
When he will return and what his role will be remained unclear.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Vasher said. "I had a chance to run around a little bit today. I'm still day-to-day to see how everything works out for the next week or so."
The injuries are taking their toll on a defense that has not returned to the dominant form it showed while leading the Bears to the playoffs in 2005 and 2006.
Instead of going with the run, opponents are using short passes. Only two teams are allowing more yards passing per game than the Bears, even though they're holding opponents to 6.4 yards per catch.
Even so, the Bears are vulnerable.
It would help if the defensive line applied some pressure, but that's been nonexistent at times. Cases in point: Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Even though the Buccaneers' Brian Griese threw 67 passes and the Falcons' Matt Ryan attempted 30, the Bears failed to register a sack.
Quarterbacks have time, and receivers are matched up against a short-handed secondary.
"Starters are starters for a reason," safety Mike Brown said. "Obviously, they earned those positions, but at the same time, our two corners (Graham and Kevin Payne) played very well. Then, when you start going down to your last corner and then you're asking Rashied Davis to get ready, that's when you start worrying a little bit."
Using Davis in the secondary is a worst-case scenario for the Bears, considering he has settled in at receiver the past three seasons after playing cornerback in 2005.
"I don't know if the coaches would like me to do that," Davis said.
They would like to have a healthy secondary, though.
When they do, they'll have a decision to make. Do they start Vasher or go with Graham, who had his first interception last week? And what about Kevin Payne, who leads the team with 60 tackles and three interceptions?
"First, we need to get Nathan back on the football field," Smith said. "There's enough reps for all good players. We have a lot of different positions for our cornerbacks to play."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press