Bears coach Lovie Smith said defensive end Julius Peppers did not practice and has been downgraded to doubtful for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field because of a sprained knee he suffered against the Lions on Monday night.
It appears Nick Reed would replace Peppers if he can't play. Corey Wootton is a possibility, but he is recovering from a broken hand.
''We've downgraded Julius Peppers to doubtful,'' Smith said after practice on Friday at Halas Hall. ''He wasn't able to do anything today. Still hopeful. When a guy doesn't practice at all during the week, we're not too optimistic, but we'll see.''
The Peppers situation bears watching. It could be a bit of gamesmanship by the Bears, who were miffed last year when the Vikings listed Brett Favre as ''out'' prior to the Bears-Vikings game last Dec. 20 in Minneapolis and Favre ended up starting. On Thursday, Israel Idonije said confidently, ''Julius will play.''
But if Peppers cannot play or is not 100 percent, it puts even more heat on a Bears defense that ranks 29th in total yards and has just four sacks in the last four games. If Wootton can't play, the Bears would have three active defensive ends -- Idonije, Reed and rookie Mario Addison. Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye could play end if needed But the Bears also will be without starting tackle Matt Toeaina, so Melton and Okoye will be needed there as well.
''I don't know if they'll completely change the game plan [if Peppers is out], but I'd say you have an entirely different attitude not having Julius Peppers on the football field,'' Smith said. ''Great player. You have to deal with him. Especially in passing downs, you have to think about putting two guys on him and all those things.''
As for the Bears ...
''You can do a few things if he's not out there, but if he's not for us, we need other guys to step up. We have a couple options to go with if he's not playing.''
All in all, it could be quite a challenge for the Bears defense. Rookie Chris Conte and second-year pro Major Wright are expected to start at safety in place of veterans Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather.
''I think it's safe to say we have a simple enough defense for them to be able to pick it up,'' Smith said. ''But [Conte has] been around. It's not like he just came into Halas Hall yesterday. He knows the defense. That's not an issue. He knows what to do.
''It's just about a new player getting his first true action starting. Your first start, Sunday night game, everyone's watching. You guys met with him. I know he's pretty excited about it, and he's earned this opportunity.''