Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett is back on the practice field running sprints and increasing the intensity of his conditioning program in an effort to regain any strength or speed he might have lost during the four weeks he was sidelined with a concussion. Bennett is familiar with the drill, having also suffered a concussion last December.
Bennett spoke to the media after practice today.
"I'm just doing whatever the experts ask me to right now," Bennett said. "There's a whole team of medical professionals consulting and giving their advice. I want to get my wind back up and get ready to play this week. I'm going out there running around and getting back into game shape."
The doctors have cleared Bennett to resume football activities. He said he feels strong and didn't lose anything in terms of his physical abilities. He still isn't sure how much he'll play in this Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals but said he's happy to function in whatever role the coaches chose.
"One snap, two snaps, going full out the whole game, I'll do whatever they ask me to," he said. "I don't feel that I've lost much in terms of the learning curve. I've been working out as I've been able and my doctors have allowed. My stamina is good. My body is sound."
Coach Marc Trestman said that Bennett had been "playing hard and going full speed"in practice but also cautioned that Bennett's availability this Sunday was "not plannable" at this point in the week.
"We want to be sure he can go before we put him in," Trestman said. "His reps are good but as I said, we're not planning too far ahead. We'll see how it goes as the week progresses. These are the kinds of things you have to let take care of themselves."
Bennett said his symptoms continued much longer than he had expected.
"It wasn't anything terrible, just a lingering headache," he said. "But it did go on much longer than I'd expected. When I had that hit, I was disoriented. Kind of the situation where you are making your way to the sidelines but have to remember which color your teammates are wearing. I guess I was lucky I didn't end up on the wrong side of the field. But the good news is that I've been completely symptom free for a couple of days now. That's why I was running out here today."
In response to a rumor that Bennett, who is due to earn $2.25 million this season, was being shopped around the league by the Bears, Bennett said he had heard nothing.
"I speak to my agent all the time and he's never said a thing about that. None of my friends in football told me anything about that. I think it was just rumor, word of mouth. I'm sure that somebody would have brought it up in conversation if it were real. I take people at their word. If I've been told I'm not being shopped around. That is what I believe."
Bennett will play a critical role as the team's slot receiver this year, assuming he can stay healthy. He feels his chemistry with Jay Cutler, with whom he has played since college, should help him quickly transition back to the playing field.
"That isn't the kind of thing you lose because you've been out with an injury," Bennett said. "We've always had excellent communication both on and off the field."
In terms of keeping current with developments at Halas Hall, Bennett admitted to sneaking a peek at his iPad from time to time.
"My doctors told me to stay off the computer, to relax and forget about day-to-day football matters while I healed," Bennett said. "I will say that I took out my iPad occasionally to stay current in terms of what was going on with the team. From what I read, I don't feel that I've lost much in that respect."
The NFL just settled a $765 million lawsuit with former players dealing with post-football concussion-related trauma. Yet Bennett said he's not looking too far ahead in terms of long-term problems.
"I know what I signed up for with football. It is not a gentle game," he said. "I am not scared of long-lasting effects. I'm taking this in a sensible manner and trusting the medical personnel who are advising me. If they feel I am ready to play. If my coaches feel I am ready to play, then I'll be out there. I hope to be on the field and playing this Sunday."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.