Just in time for a key stretch of three division games in 12 days, the Bears are getting some very important healthy bodies back on the field.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, receiver Allen Robinson II, tight end Ben Braunecker and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols all returned to practice Wednesday without restrictions. Tight end Adam Shaheen was also expected to work out for the first time since injuring his knee and ankle Aug. 18 in a preseason game in Denver, but because he remains on injured reserve he is not listed on the injury report.
"We don't know their exact capacity and that's part of the evaluation process is kind of seeing where they're at," coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday before practice. "But we do hope to have those guys out there … to see where we're at health-wise and they're all obviously valuable players."
The Bears begin a key stretch Sunday when they host the Lions at Soldier Field. That will be followed by games against the Vikings in Chicago Sunday night, Nov. 18, and a Thanksgiving rematch in Detroit four days later.
After being voted the NFC defensive player of the month for September, Mack injured his ankle Oct. 14 against the Dolphins. He finished that game and played the following week against the Patriots but has since missed contests versus the Jets and Bills.
Getting Mack back Sunday against the Lions would be a tremendous boost for a defense that has played exceptionally well for most of the season, including the last two weeks without the All-Pro pass rusher.
In Mack's first four games this year, he recorded five sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
Robinson, meanwhile, aggravated a groin injury against the Patriots that forced him to exit that game early and then miss the next two contests versus the Jets and Bills. In the first six contests of the season, the veteran receiver caught 25 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky developed a rapport with Robinson before he was injured and is confident the two won't skip a beat.
"I don't think it'll be that difficult," Trubisky said. "We'll just get all the reps in practice, and we've been getting some of the reps even though he hasn't been playing. He's been at practice a little bit, so we'll get him in practice this week and continue to build that chemistry, and I think we'll pick back up right where we left off."
Robinson tore his ACL in last year's season opener while playing for the Jaguars. He posted huge numbers the previous two years in Jacksonville with 80 receptions, 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015, and 73-883-6 in 2016.
What impresses Trubisky most about Robinson is "probably how smart he is as a football player."
"He's got really high football IQ, handles himself really well as a pro, knows all the receiver spots so he can help other guys get lined up," Trubisky said. "He knows how to run routes and how his route fits within each concept to get open. You use all those intangibles along with great hands, route-running ability and being physical, and it allows you to get open and it makes it easy for a quarterback. He's easy to throw to and gets open."
Shaheen developed cohesiveness with Trubisky last season when both were rookies while leading the Bears with three touchdown receptions.
"We're looking forward to Adam being back," Trubisky said. "Me and Adam have a great connection from last year. He's a big target and runs good routes for his size and can separate. He's just a mismatch problem across the board for linebackers and safeties, and when you get a corner on him as well, his size is just too much to handle. Getting him back will just open things up even more for this offense, and he's another option for this offense to be even more dynamic."
Braunecker sat out last Sunday's game in Buffalo with a concussion he sustained the previous week against the Jets.
Nichols missed the Bills game with a knee injury. The rookie fifth-round pick had been productive in his previous two outings, recording seven tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery versus the Patriots and Jets.
At this point, it's unclear how many of the players who are returning to practice will be able to play Sunday against the Lions.
"We're trying to figure this out as we go with all these guys," Nagy said. "It's going to be a process for us just learning. Each guy's going to be different."