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Even When He's Healthy, Jay Cutler Looks Unlikely To Return As Bears' Starter

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- What comes of an apparent Bears quarterback controversy remains to be seen, because before Chicago can commit to either Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer for this season, Cutler has to return from his thumb sprain.

Cutler has practiced just once since his Week 2 injury, listed as limited on the Wednesday of Week 4. He hasn't suited up since.

During Wednesday's work at Halas Hall, Cutler wasn't in uniform but was seen throwing the football with teammates.

"Time heals, and he is improving," coach John Fox said of Cutler. "But he's not been cleared at this point."

Hoyer appears to be favorite to remain the Bears' starter moving forward, even when Cutler gets healthy. In Sunday's loss at Indianapolis, Hoyer threw for 397 yards, and the offense tallied 522 total yards.

Initial reports suggested that Cutler would miss just two or three weeks with the thumb sprain, but he has yet to show readiness into the fourth week of recovery.

With Hoyer in charge, the Bears have been efficient in getting down the field but have struggled to finish drives with touchdowns.

"We've got to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds, really," Hoyer said. "Can't have the penalties, things like that, holding us back, when we get down, especially in the red area. I think all of our penalties happened inside the 40, so that's taking potential points off the board. We've got to stop doing that and continue doing what we're doing well."

Fox has yet to publicly lean one direction in the quarterback conversation, creating an apparent controversy between Cutler and Hoyer. The most Fox has said is that the decision will be performance-based, which would suggest it's Hoyer's job to lose.

The Bears like how Hoyer manages the game. He has yet to turn the ball over in his three starts, while Cutler has struggled with ball protection throughout his career.

Meanwhile, Bears general manager Ryan Pace spent last weekend scouting Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a source said. Watson is projected to be selected high in the first round. Regardless of which quarterback is selected for the remainder of this season, the Bears seem set to draft a quarterback next spring.

Once again, the Bears' injury report was lengthy Wednesday. Jeremy Langford (ankle), Eddie Royal (calf), Zach Miller (ribs), Josh Sitton (shoulder), Eddie Goldman (ankle), Bryce Callahan (hamstring), Deiondre' Hall (ankle) and Tracy Porter (knee) all joined Cutler in missing practice. The Bears listed Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring), Jerrell Freeman (wrist),  Leonard Floyd (calf), Will Sutton (pectoral) and Willie Young (knee, elbow) as limited.

Cutler has yet to be medically cleared for action, with the Bears working cautiously to allow his sprain more time to heal. Having Hoyer playing well means there's no reason to rush Cutler back.

Even when Cutler is healthy, it remains to be seen whether he will return to the starting job at quarterback. Hoyer seems like he may not relinquish the role.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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