By Chris Emma--
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- A determination on Bears guard Kyle Long's status for Sunday's season opener could be made as late as 90 minutes before opening kickoff.
Coach John Fox couldn't say whether Long, a three-time Pro Bowler, will be available against the Falcons. Long has been eased back to action nine months removed from surgery to repair a gruesome ankle injury. Long has been present with the Bears on the practice field throughout the preseason but is getting worked slowly into action.
"I can't guarantee it," Fox said Monday afternoon at Halas Hall.
While a decision could come during the week, the Bears will likely hold out for a public decision on Long's status with the inactives announcement prior to Sunday's game. At the least, Long could be tested on the field for a full determination.
During the preseason, the Bears have worked Hroniss Grasu at center and Cody Whitehair at left guard with the possibility looming that Long could be out for the opener. Fox declined to reveal if that would be the starting line without Long.
Long suffered major ligament damage late last November when former Bears fullback Paul Lasike landed on his ankle on a shovel pass play in Tampa Bay. Long had also been playing through a torn labrum, an injury that was healed without surgery.
Long last spoke to reporters nearly a month ago and discussed his challenge in returning.
"Well, luckily, early on in my career, I didn't have to deal with anything as debilitating as what I sustained last year," Long said. "So, really, this is my first time through something like this. And, honestly, I've been champing at the bit to get back, but [the team has] done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it's a long season. Even though I fully understand that, you're kind of short-sighted when you're injured because you want to get back at it as fast as possible."
The Bears may have some good news on linebacker Pernell McPhee, who was practicing with the team Monday. Though McPhee has spent the last month rehabbing from a procedure on his left knee, Fox said that he's in his best shape since arriving with the team.
Meanwhile, receiver Markus Wheaton is still working back to action after having surgery to repair a fractured pinkie finger. Fox said that Wheaton is working with Nerf footballs.
After working on Labor Day, the Bears will have their usual Tuesday off day before regrouping Wednesday at Halas Hall.
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