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Injuries could test Bears' depth

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Injuries could test Bears' depth

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears' belief that they have the depth to withstand injuries is being tested.

They officially ruled out return specialist and receiver Devin Hester and guard Chris Spencer for Sunday's game against Seattle.

The good news is that linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte made it clear they expect to be ready after injuring ankles against Minnesota, meaning the banged-up Bears will likely have at least two of their star players available.

Asked after practice on Thursday if he expects to play this week, Forte said, ``I do.''

Briggs made a similar vow earlier in the day. He's missed just four games in 10 seasons and has no intention of adding to that total this week.

``Four games. I don't plan on missing this week, either,'' the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker said.

Briggs and Forte practiced Thursday on a limited basis, as did star cornerback Charles Tillman, who left the Vikings game with an ankle injury.

``They're backbones of our defense, part of it,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, referring to Tillman and Briggs. ``Just great players, Pro Bowl players. It's important and their leadership is so important.''

The fact that they were back practicing certainly was a good sign. While Tillman did not make himself available for comment, Briggs had plenty to say during his weekly session at the podium with reporters.

``I feel good,'' he said. ``Getting better every day. Modern medicine.''

Sitting out is something Briggs rarely does. He missed two games in 2007 and one each in 2009 and 2010, but mostly he's been durable during his career.

The same goes for Forte, who hadn't missed a game until he sat out the final four last season because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He also missed one early this year because of a sprained right ankle.

Even if they get Briggs, Forte and Tillman back, the Bears (8-3) will still be short-handed as they try at least to maintain their one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.

They had to scramble on the offensive line this week after losing both starting guards against the Vikings. Besides Spencer going down, they lost right guard Lance Louis for the remainder of the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Gabe Carimi, who filled in at right guard for the first time once Louis went down, figures to get the nod there. The Bears could go with Edwin Williams at left guard for Spencer.

Either way, Forte said, running behind a revamped line won't change his approach.

``I've just got to trust those guys up front,'' he said. ``They're getting a lot of reps in practice right now so they know what to do in the game, and if we make mistakes in the game, go to the sideline and make adjustments so that we don't continue to make them.''

The offensive line play has been a big issue for the Bears all season. They made some changes following an ugly loss at San Francisco two weeks ago, with Carimi losing his starting job at right tackle to Jonathan Scott. Chilo Rachal left the team, and Spencer stepped back into a starting role at left guard before going down.

The blocking is a big reason why the Bears' offense ranks 30th overall, certainly not what they envisioned after trading for star receiver Brandon Marshall.

They've strayed from the run at times, although that wasn't the case against Minnesota. They rushed 39 times in that game, and that commitment helped open up the passing game even if they managed just 113 yards rushing.

The defense appears to be in better shape at the moment.

Even if Tillman or Briggs is unable to play, the Bears believe they have enough star power and depth to get by at least in the short term.

``I feel good about it,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ``We've got good backups. Kelvin (Hayden) did a good job last week when Peanut (Tillman) went out. Up front we're deep. At linebacker we made some good moves in the offseason. ... So I feel all right about our depth in most positions.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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