BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) -As the pain shot through his right calf, that familiar, awful thought tore through Dusty Dvoracek's mind.
Here we go again.
The last thing the Chicago Bears' defensive tackle needed was another injury, albeit a minor one, after missing his rookie season and blowing out his left knee in last year's opener at San Diego.
``I just know I'm going to hit a streak where I'm not going to have any injuries and have a nice few years ahead of me,'' he said.
Starting now, he hopes.
Dvoracek practiced last Saturday for the first time after straining his calf during an offseason workout but isn't sure if he'll play this week at Seattle. Either way, he said the injury won't hinder him this season. It was a relatively minor setback compared to the big ones that wiped out his first two seasons.
``I talk to Dusty a lot, and one of the things that I kind of get from him is that he wants so badly to be on that field so that he can relate to what some of the guys on the field are saying,'' linebacker Lance Briggs said. ``When we talk about plays or things that are going on, I think he feels kind of left out. He wants to feel part of that group again.''
A third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2006, Dvoracek missed his rookie season because of a foot injury. He played well enough in camp last year to beat out veteran Darwin Walker for the starting nose tackle job and had five tackles before everything crumbled.
He ruptured his left anterior cruciate ligament on a special teams play in the fourth quarter against the Chargers and got carted off the field. So did Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown with a similar injury, and a team that expected to contend for another NFC title never regrouped.
Chicago dropped the opener and limped to a 7-9 record thanks to a long line of injuries on both sides.
What looked like a fearsome front at the beginning of the season simply couldn't hold up.
Pro Bowl pick Tommie Harris had seven of his eight sacks in the first eight games before problems with his left knee caught up to him. He managed to play in all 16, but the other tackles could not stay on the field.
Walker missed five games. Anthony Adams missed the final four with an elbow injury. And the health problems extended to other areas of the defense.
A groin injury limited cornerback Nathan Vasher to four games and Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive end Mark Anderson and safety Adam Archuleta all missed at least one game. Star linebacker Brian Urlacher played all 16 despite an arthritic back and had minor neck surgery in the offseason.
If the Bears stay healthy, the defense could rank among the league's best again.
The potential for a solid rotation up front is there, with Harris starting alongside Adams or Dvoracek. At the moment, Dvoracek is a backup, but more importantly, he's feeling fine.
Dvoracek played well in his lone regular-season appearance, had ``a lot of fun flying around.'' Then, he got carted off the field - just like Brown. He endured seven months of grueling rehab and didn't start running again until March.
``It was crazy when I could start running again to think how excited I was,'' he said.
That excitement disappeared when he injured his calf, and then there was relief when tests showed no major injury. Now, he's ready to move on after missing the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp.
``It's amazing to see Dusty back on the field,'' said Harris, his college teammate. ``Dude's a beast. He brings a whole 'nother piece of energy to the team.''
Briggs said Dvoracek looks ``rough,'' and he meant that as a compliment.
``As in he's tough,'' Briggs said. ``Dusty looks good. He's pushing people around and making some noise.''
He has some pent up energy.
``You never want to sit out and watch,'' Dvoracek said. ``I'm a competitive person. I like to compete, love playing football. I'm just really glad to get back out there with my teammates and get going again.''

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