LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears cleared Jay Cutler to practice Wednesday in a limited capacity, but per the NFL's concussion protocol, he'll still need to be cleared by an independent neurologist to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Cutler would have practiced on a limited basis Wednesday had the team not taken the day off. The development came as welcome news to offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who said, "God, I hope so," when asked whether Cutler would return this week.
"Jay has to be cleared to practice on a limited basis, which he has been cleared to do," Smith said. "Before he can play, he has to be cleared by independent neurologist. And we're not to that point. It's about practice right now. He is good to go for practice on a limited basis."
Cutler suffered a concussion on Nov. 11 against the Houston Texans on an illegal hit by linebacker Tim Dobbins, who was fined $30,000 for the infraction. Cutler stayed in the game for seven more plays before doctors ruled him out at halftime. "Whenever I went in for halftime, the trainers were watching me pretty closely, and they could just tell things were a little bit off," Cutler said. "So they started asking questions, and we came to the conclusion that I had a concussion and probably shouldn't be playing. "
Cutler missed the 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night but said his absence didn't necessarily mean he didn't pass his tests. A team spokesman, however, explained that to be cleared for full participation at practice, a player must pass all testing, including an evaluation from an independent neurologist.
Cutler has been cleared only for limited participation, which means he didn't pass all testing going into Monday night's game.
The Bears already had been leaning toward not playing Cutler or rookie defensive end Shea McClellin, who also suffered a concussion against the Texans, regardless of the test results. Doctors cleared McClellin for full participation on Wednesday, and he'll play Sunday against the Vikings unless concussion symptoms return prior to the game.
"I don't know, we'll see," Cutler said of playing Sunday. "Going through the process, (there are) still a few things to go through this week, and we'll see how it goes. I've got to see some more doctors, got to go out on the field and make sure you can exert yourself, and it's really just a personal thing making sure you feel OK."
Smith didn't know when Cutler would see an independent neurologist again, adding that practice this week will "tell us everything we need to know."
Despite Cutler sustaining multiple concussions throughout his career, the quarterback vows not to change his playing style. Throughout the process of recovering, Cutler said none of the symptoms have returned.
Asked whether he ponders the long-term effects of concussions, Cutler said he just puts trust in the medical professionals.
"There's a lot of awareness out there," Cutler said. "But you trust the doctors and our training staff that we're going to make the right decision for my health not only in the near future, but lifetime going forward."