As the Bears offense looks to rebound from its disappointing performance last Sunday in Tampa, help could be on its way this week in the return of two key players from injury.
The team is hopeful that receiver Markus Wheaton and guard Kyle Long both will be able to play Sunday against the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season.
Wheaton participated in OTAs but underwent an appendectomy July 30 during the first week of training camp. He returned to practice Aug. 13 but promptly broke his pinkie, an injury that required surgery and has sidelined him for more than a month.
Bears receiver Markus Wheaton hopes to return to the team soon.
"We got to see him in the offseason," said coach John Fox. "He'll be hard to coax to Bourbonnais next year, just the experience he had with the appendicitis and with his finger. We're still in wait-and-see. He was out there last week in a limited basis.
"He does have good quickness and good speed. He's been a productive receiver in this league. He had 40, 50 catches two years prior to being injured. We're excited to watch him. He looked more involved last week. I think he's got a pretty good grasp of what we're doing which is obviously helpful."
Wheaton signed with the Bears in March after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Steelers. He had a breakout season in 2014 with 53 receptions for 644 yards and two touchdowns and followed in 2015 with 44 catches for 749 yards and five TDs. But a shoulder injury limited Wheaton to three games last season.
Wheaton's return would provide a big boost to a receiving corps that has lost starters Cameron Meredith and Kevin White to serious injuries. The speedy Wheaton would also give the Bears a deep threat that they're currently lacking in their passing game.
Quarterback Mike Glennon has completed 67.1 percent of his passes in the Bears' first two games, but his longest completion has only been 22 yards.
"If [Wheaton] is up and healthy, hopefully he provides that for us," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "It's a different group of receivers right now. Mike's completion percentage is pretty good right now; he's done a good job of that. Last year we were really good; I think we were in the top 10 in explosive passes. But right now that's an area we could improve on."
Wheaton's mere presence on the field figures to open up some opportunities for his teammates on intermediate and underneath routes.
"We're hoping it creates more three-level throws," Loggains said. "There is an element of speed that comes with Markus. That is his strength and I'm hoping that he adds that kind of value to our offense."
With Wheaton having missed the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games, he'll spend the week trying to develop some cohesiveness with Glennon.
"It's going to be interesting because Mike didn't have much time with him in OTAs and in training camp when he was up he was going with Mitchell [Trubisky] more because of Kevin and Cam [playing with Glennon]," Loggains said. "We've got to get those guys on the same page quickly. He's a guy that's played in the NFL and had production. That's a big thing for us right now."
Long's return, meanwhile, would boost a line that was missing four of its top guards last Sunday in Tampa. While Long did not play and Eric Kush is on injured reserve, starters Tom Compton and Josh Sitton both departed the contest with injuries.
Sidelined since breaking his ankle last Nov. 13 in Tampa, Long hopes to return Sunday against the Steelers, saying Wednesday: "We're 0-2; I need to get back out there."
"You can't put any guarantees on it yet, but as I said previous weeks I've felt a lot better," Long said. "So I think it's going to be a great opportunity this week to figure out where I'm at."
Asked how he will determine whether he's ready to play Sunday, Long said: "I'll just know. Probably the ability to go get after people and do the things I want to do."
During practice this week, Long is excited about the opportunity to continue reestablishing a bond with his fellow offensive linemen.
"This week will be good for that if it is the week that I go," he said. "I'll be able to get some more reps. I got some reps last week, so we started to knock the rust off. But being able to develop that rhythm and that trust will be good too."