SEATTLE -- Seattle Seahawks left tackle George Fant tore his ACL in his right knee during Friday's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings and will have to undergo season-ending surgery.

"I'm really broken-hearted about George Fant getting hurt," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Just unfortunate. He's done so much and come so far."

Fant suffered the injury with 8 minutes, 49 seconds left in the second quarter. He was moving backward in pass protection when teammate Justin Britt, who was on the ground, rolled into him. Fant immediately went to the ground and clutched the knee. Trainers tended to him for several minutes before carting Fant off the field.

Fant started 10 games at left tackle last year and was going to start there again in 2017.

Carroll said earlier this summer that Fant had the best offseason of any Seahawks player. Fant bulked up from 296 pounds to 320 pounds.

After Fant's injury, second-year player Rees Odhiambo took over at left tackle. Luke Joeckel, who has been playing left guard, could also be an option to play that spot going forward.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – His teammates' reactions said as much Thursday night, as did Billy Winn’s own expression when he was helped on to a cart in the first quarter of the Denver Broncos’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

An MRI exam conducted Friday has confirmed Winn suffered a torn right ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Winn suffered the injury with just 46 seconds left in the first quarter when he stepped awkwardly in a crowd during a 6-yard run by Bears running back Ka’Deem Carey.

AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhA Friday MRI confirmed the bad news for Billy Winn -- a season-ending ACL tear.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph said following the game that Winn would have the MRI Friday to check the extent of the injury. But Winn’s teammates wore somber expressions when he was helped to a cart by the Broncos trainers and Winn, who had expressed high hopes for the season this past week, looked resigned to the injury's severity.

Players were also waving for the training staff almost as soon as the play was over. Winn, who re-signed with the Broncos late in free agency, played 342 snaps on defense last season (29.9 percent).

He played in all 16 games in 2016, starting two. Winn, because the Broncos selected DeMarcus Walker in the second round of this past April's draft after they had signed both Domata Peko and Zach Kerr in free agency, was facing a tight battle for available roster spots in the defensive line.

This past week Broncos special teams coordinator Brock Olivo said Winn had volunteered during the offseason to be a backup long snapper on punts and field goal attempts if needed. Olivo also expressed his belief Winn could find some kind of role on special teams.

“I know he’s done that in the past,’’ Olivo said. “When we first got here, Billy came up and said, ‘Hey, I’m your guy if you need a backup.’ Billy is an amazing athlete. I don’t know if you guys have seen. He can play in space too so we’re excited about Billy.’’

METAIRE, La. – Cornerback Marshon Lattimore remained absent from practice Wednesday. But coach Sean Payton said he expects the New Orleans Saints' first-round draft pick to be “fine.”

“It’s not a hamstring or anything. He got his knee tweaked,” Payton said – which is an important distinction, since Lattimore dealt with significant injuries to each of his hamstrings early in his college career.

“I think he’ll be fine. It won’t be long,” Payton said of Lattimore, who was injured during Monday’s practice. The team then was off on Tuesday.

The Saints’ top cornerback, Delvin Breaux, also remained sidelined Wednesday with an unspecified injury – though he was in attendance watching from the side at the beginning of practice.

Tight end Coby Fleener and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel were absent for unspecified reasons Wednesday. Guard Andrus Peat was not participating at the end of practice for an unspecified reason.

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Senio Kelemete made his training camp debut Wednesday after he was activated from the PUP list.

OXNARD, California -- The last time Jaylon Smith wore pads on a football field was Jan. 1, 2016, in the Fiesta Bowl.

His left knee was shredded after he was pushed in the back by an Ohio State offensive lineman, causing Smith's foot to plant into the ground. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He tore his lateral collateral ligament. He suffered damage to the peroneal nerve, causing some teams to eliminate him from their draft boards.

As Smith was slowly helped off the field, he could not lift his left foot as it skimmed across the ground.

When the Dallas Cowboys put the pads on Wednesday for their third practice of training camp, Smith will be in full pads on a football field for the first time since the injury.

To Smith, it will be just another day in a journey that he believes will see him become one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

"Very confident on myself and everything I've done this far," Smith said. "The strength staff, the rehab, Britt Brown, Jim [Maurer], all those guys: We have a plan set in place and we don't want to defer from it. It's just about working every day, and it's something where for me everything I've done we start off slow, we continue to progress, we continue to progress and we're good. And I've succeeded in everything thus far."

Jaylon SmithAP Photo/Gus RuelasDez Bryant called teammate Jaylon Smith (left) a "freak of nature" and says the linebacker looks like an "action figure" on the football field.

To almost everybody else -- coaches, teammates, executives -- it will be another sign of progress.

Smith's older brother, Rod, is a running back with the Cowboys.

"I think he's ready to get out there," Rod Smith said. "He's been preparing since the injury, so he's been doing a good job keeping his mind off it. Focused, keeping his mind right. Focused on what he needs to have it focused on. He looks ready."

Justin Durant sat next to Jaylon Smith last year in the linebackers room as Smith worked through his rehab his rookie season, unable to play.

"I love everything about him," Durant said. "I'm excited for him to get out there. I want to see how good he is, too."

Said wide receiver Dez Bryant: "The dude's a freak of nature. Look at him. He looks like a damn action figure out there. The guy's phenomenal. I'm ready to see him in action. I think he's going to perform well."

There is no way of truly knowing how Smith will perform until he is on the field in a game. Wearing pads during training camp offers more of a glimpse into the reality than offseason practices conducted without pads, though.

As optimistic as the Cowboys are, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he has not seen enough to know for sure if Smith will help during the regular season.

"No, other than I know he's a very talented and a terrific college player," Marinelli said. "We know what he's about. He's got size and the movement. That's a great starting point. Great starting point."

Had he not been injured, Smith might have been under consideration by the Cowboys with their first-round pick at No. 4 overall over Ezekiel Elliott. That's if he would have been available. He could have gone among the top three picks.

While the strength and movement have returned to his left foot, Smith continues to wear a brace to help keep it flexed. Zack Martin wore a similar brace during his rookie season when he suffered an ankle injury going into the playoffs.

"It's great for support," Martin said. "Obviously when you have that injury the biggest thing is when it moves a little bit it hurts. It keeps it stable and made a huge difference for me."

Smith hopes he won't need a brace when the regular season starts, or perhaps the one he wears will be modified more. The ligaments are strong and secure. The nerve continues to regenerate and the Cowboys believe it will fire completely in the future. Smith has been coy when discussing the specifics of the nerve injury but has always been positive it would return fully.

A recent EMG showed the nerve's conduction has grown from the last test in the spring,

"Those are the things you can see that things are changing for him in a positive way," executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

The Cowboys will work Smith in slowly as he goes, just as they did in the spring. The goal is to be ready for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants, but today is a significant step.

"It's about patience," Jaylon Smith said. "But with sitting out a year, I've learned so much about myself as a man. Everything I do is with a clear-eye view. It's a focused vision, determined belief and earned dreams. It's something I live by and walk with every single day."video

MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will give running back Latavius Murray at least a little more time to recover from ankle surgery before he gets onto the field at training camp.

The Vikings placed Murray on the physically unable to perform list on Monday as they began three days of early work for quarterbacks, rookies and injured players. Murray, who had surgery in March to clean up a lingering ankle injury from last season, missed the Vikings' entire offseason program, and it remains to be seen whether he'll return from the PUP list when the Vikings have their first full-squad practice Thursday.

Latavius MurrayAP PhotoNew Vikings RB Latavius Murray is eager to get started learning the offense with real reps.

"It’s very difficult, because those [other] guys, they have the upper hand," Murray said. "They’ve been out there practicing. Dalvin [Cook], he’s been in the system. It’s one thing for me to watch from the sideline, but when you’re in it, it’s much easier to learn when you’re able to make the mistakes that I can only see. I would say that they’re ahead of the game right now, so when I do come back I have some making up to do. I have to bust my behind to make sure I set myself apart."

The Vikings signed Murray to a three-year deal in March, effectively signaling the end of Adrian Peterson's time in Minnesota. They then used a second-round draft pick on Cook, who will compete with Murray and Jerick McKinnon for playing time in the Vikings' revamped backfield.

Minnesota also put defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd on the non-football injury list as he continues to work through the nerve issues he has battled since having surgery on his right knee last September. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday that Floyd has "improved," but a timetable for the former first-round pick's return to the field remains unclear.

Atlanta Falcons defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby will join All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant as players held out for the start of next week's organized team activities, multiple sources told ESPN.

Coach Dan Quinn previously said both Jones and Trufant would be sidelined during OTAs and likely up until training camp while coming off foot and pectoral surgeries, respectively. The statuses of Clayborn and Shelby were a little unclear despite injuries that ended their 2016 season prematurely.

Clayborn suffered a torn biceps in a Jan. 14 divisional playoff win over Seattle and was told a full recovery would take five months from when he suffered the injury. Shelby tore his Achilles in a Oct. 16 game at Seattle and faced up to eight months of recovery.

"Adrian Clayborn ... he's doing well," Quinn said at the end of March. "And then Derrick Shelby had an Achilles injury like the fifth week of the year. He looks good physically. He's actually changed his body. ... He looks different as a guy walking around. You can see the size, the strength. He looks great. .... All of them are in different phases of their rehab, but all we anticipate being fully ready."

When he said "fully ready," Quinn was referring to training camp and the start of the season. There is no need to rush any of the players back into action now, particularly Jones, who coming off a March 6 surgery to remove a bunion on his left foot. Jones told ESPN everything is on schedule for a training camp return in late July.

The Falcons officially begin OTAs next Tuesday after having their first three days of those activities wiped away this week due to an NFL rules violation from last year related to excessive on-field contact.

While the Falcons will be without Jones, Trufant, Clayborn, Shelby, and rookie first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley from UCLA (shoulder rehab/NFL college finals rules) for OTAs, Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is set to participate after playing through the Super Bowl with a non-displaced fracture in his left fibula.

The Falcons have OTAs this coming Tuesday, June 1-2, June 5-6, and June 8-9. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-and-11 drills are allowed.

Mandatory minicamp is June 13-15.

Rich Graessle/Icon SportswireGeno Smith says that he's 100 percent and will be ready for training camp.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Quarterback Geno Smith is relishing his new lease on life with the New York Giants. He's enjoying working alongside Eli Manning and with coach Ben McAdoo, the first offensive head coach of his professional career.

Smith also claims he's completely healthy despite surgery to repair a torn ACL some six months ago.

"I'm good, 100 [percent]," Smith said Tuesday at the 24th annual United Way of New York City Gridiron Gala. "I'm good."

Asked if he was at the point now where he would be cleared for training camp if it started today, he didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, of course," said Smith, who signed as a free agent with the Giants this offseason. He had spent the first four seasons of his career with the New York Jets after being a second-round pick out of West Virginia.

Smith, 26, needs to be healthy. He's in a crowded quarterback room after the Giants selected Davis Webb in the third round of this year's draft. Webb is now the potential successor to Manning and his spot on the final roster is secure.

Webb will likely spend his rookie season as the third-string quarterback. Smith is expected to compete with Josh Johnson for the backup role behind Manning.

Regardless of where Smith says he is physically in early May, expect the Giants to bring him along slowly and cautiously. McAdoo said as much recently in an interview.

It's a prudent approach. Linebacker J.T. Thomas also had his ACL repaired last season (in late September or early October) and said Tuesday night he's currently at 75-80 percent. Thomas has been running and doing some "mild cutting" so far, and has eyed the start of training camp for his full return.

"I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm at about 75-80 percent. I'll be ready to go in training camp," Thomas said. "I'm really, really trying to time the thing up, so when that light comes on Sunday there isn't any excuses why you won't see No. 55 on the field."

Thomas was injured while covering a kick in the final seconds of the first half of last season's opener against the Dallas Cowboys. It has been a while since he's been on the field playing football.

But Thomas said it helps mentally to be getting close to full strength and being back around his teammates this spring. The Giants defense is a close-knit group, as evidenced by the attendance at Tuesday night's event.

With Mark Herzlich being honored as a hometown hero for his work in the community, most of the Giants' linebacker room came out in support. Thomas, defensive captain Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson were at the Gridiron Gala.

The 24th annual gala focused on providing educational resources for kids living in New York City's most-challenged communities.

Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who tore a ligament in his right ankle during his team's Super Bowl LI loss to New England, received medical clearance Tuesday to resume running again, a league source told

Schraeder is expected to begin running next week. He's been lifting weights at the team facility five days a week since the end of February, working out alongside fellow offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer.

The Falcons are scheduled to begin the offseason program April 17, and Schraeder is expected to participate. The injury, which did not require surgery, occurred in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, although Schraeder did not exit until his ankle finally gave out in the fourth quarter.

Schraeder is one of several offensive starters coming back from injuries. Wide receiver Julio Jones, who had surgery to remove a bunion on his left foot, won't be available for offseason workouts but expects to be healthy in time for training camp. Center Alex Mack played through the Super Bowl despite a hairline fracture in his left fibula. Mack was not scheduled to undergo surgery. Also, backup running back Tevin Coleman injured his ankle in the Super Bowl.

On the defensive side, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (biceps), defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (Achilles), and safety Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) are all coming off season-ending injuries.

Cornerback Akeem King (foot) and wide receiver/returner Devin Fuller (shoulder) spent last season on injured reserve.

A handful of Falcons have maintained a normal workout schedule at the team facility this offseason, including MVP Matt Ryan and backup Matt Schaub, who have been spotted running together ever since Schaub re-signed on March 8.

Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman said he spends four days a week working out at the team facility.

The Falcons have scheduled another team offseason camp session for next month. Ryan paid for all of his teammates to come together in South Florida last April for the inaugural camp.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman is no stranger to lengthy and strenuous rehabilitations from serious injuries.

Having suffered a gruesome knee injury in the 2014 NFC championship against the Seattle Seahawks, Bowman missed the next season as he attempted to recover. He went on to return for the 2015 season and played well, though he wasn't quite all the way back to the high standard he set for himself.

Then, disaster struck again on Oct. 2 of last season when Bowman tore his left Achilles in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He's now more than four months removed from the injury and is well ahead of where he was at this point in his recovery from the knee issue.

Bowman said last week there's no comparison between the rehab required for tearing multiple ligaments in his knee and tearing an Achilles.

"It doesn't (compare)," Bowman said. "It's much more easy to deal with. I'm not spending those long hours warming up trying to get my workout in so it's definitely easier to deal with than my knee. I can definitely see a positive light at the end of the tunnel."

At the end of the season, Bowman said he had progressed to the point where he was able to run on a water treadmill but he didn't have a definitive date on when he'd be able to run again on land.

"I'm working every single day, doing everything the trainers are asking me to do," Bowman said. "There's no timetable set when I will be cleared to do every single thing but the sky is looking bright for me. I feel great and the key is just keep improving every single day and giving me confidence knowing that I will be back."

Despite having now gone through multiple serious injuries in the past few years, Bowman is clearly intent on getting healthy and getting back to being one of the league's best linebackers. Bowman is still only 28, signed a lucrative contract extension last preseason and sounds like a man who has something to prove as he works his way back from his latest injury.

"I'm a grinder," Bowman said. "Anything that knocks me down, I'm going to get back up. It's just who is going to stick beside me and remember what I've done and keep praying for me that I get back to where I was."

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Speaking to Bay Area media after last week's introductory news conference, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid didn't hesitate to express his approval of his new bosses.

In general manager John Lynch, Reid has another experienced sounding board in place when one is needed.

"I think that’s awesome to have a former player in the GM role, somebody that not only understands the game of football but has played the game of football," Reid said. "So I think he has a different outlook on things when he makes those decisions, so I think that’s pretty cool."

Allan Hamilton/ Icon SportswireBy the time the 49ers open their offseason program, Eric Reid -- recovering from a torn biceps -- expects to be ready to go.

Reid is equally excited by the addition of head coach Kyle Shanahan. While Reid did not play against the Atlanta Falcons when the Niners played there in December, he believes the chance to practice against a Shanahan offense will help him improve.

"They move the ball," Reid said. "I watched the Super Bowl; they did some great things and all year they did some great things, so it will be fun to go against a guy that like they said had one of the most prolific offenses in the history of football. So I think I need to take advantage of that opportunity as a defensive player to get better."

While Reid is still awaiting word on who his new defensive coordinator will be, he's continuing to work on getting back to full strength after a torn biceps cost him the final six games of the season. He suffered the injury in late November but is already mostly healed.

Reid said last week that his only restriction right now is he can't do any weight-lifting exercises that require him to lift with his palms facing down.

"I feel good," Reid said. "I went to the doctor [Wednesday]. He told me if we had a game this week, I would be practicing. So I’m pretty much good to go. Time is on my side. Obviously there’s no rush for anything but it made me feel good that he said I would be practicing if we had a game this week."

In other words, by the time the 49ers open their offseason program, Reid will be cleared and ready to go.

"By the time OTAs come, it will be a thing of the past," Reid said.

HOUSTON -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones and center Alex Mack were limited during Wednesday's practice in preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl LI matchup with the New England Patriots.

Jones, who has battled a toe sprain since late in the regular season, expressed optimism Wednesday morning about having full participation, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn continued to take a cautious approach with his most dangerous offensive threat.

Jones said last week he expects to be fully ready to go in the Super Bowl. He has fought through injuries the entire season, although the toe sprain did cause him to miss two regular-season games.

Mack, who didn't practice last week after injuring his left fibula in the NFC Championship Game, returned to practice Monday in a limited role.

Quinn said Monday both Jones and Mack would see their practice time increase as the week progresses. The Falcons have closed practices at Rice University over the next two days.

No other Falcons showed up on the team's initial Super Bowl injury report. Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who usually gets a day of rest on Wednesdays, did not appear on the report.

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HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' secondary finished second in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and that was without 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson at cornerback.

Johnson broke his foot in the Texans' Week 6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. That was his best game of the season, as he registered 10 tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass defensed.

Johnson said he had a Jones re-fracture in his foot, an injury he called "bad luck."

Having watched the Texans defense thrive without him for most of the season, ranking No. 1 in yards allowed per game in the NFL, Johnson is looking forward to seeing what the defense can do next season.

"It's definitely exciting," Johnson said. "I know I'm really determined and I'm really hungry just thinking about next season. Sitting out this past year was a big deal for me mentally as far as knowing how bad I want to be a great player and how bad I want to help this team, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."

With Johnson injured, cornerback A.J. Bouye stepped up, playing his way into a starting role and ranking as one of the NFL's top corners. Bouye also played his way into a big contract this offseason. He will be an unrestricted free agent and might prove to be too pricey for the Texans to bring back.

If Johnson can come back healthy and play at a high level, that would definitely ease the potential loss of Bouye.

"I think we got some great young players on the team and some great veterans," Bouye said. "I think it's a great mix of just youth and experience and I think we have a lot of growth to keep growing as a defense and it's exciting."

Johnson said he expects to be back for OTAs in the spring and is training for those now.

"[I'm] working hard, just training all offseason," Johnson said. "Getting ready for OTAs and all those type of things. Rehab, getting stronger physically. Just basically trying to do anything I can to get better."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a post on his blog, Jamaal Charles revealed some of the details about the knee injury that ended his season back in October after only three games.

The Kansas City Chiefs running back wrote that the injury, a torn meniscus, happened not during a game or even practice but during a post-practice session shortly after his most productive game of the season, on Oct. 16 against the Oakland Raiders.

“There’s been speculation that I tried to come back too quick, or that I wasn’t ready, but I honestly don’t think me coming back to play is what caused this to happen." Charles wrote. “I think, if anything, I was doing too much extra work on top of what I was doing with the team and the trainers."

“I thought that since I had a good game against Oakland, maybe I could do extra stuff before and after practice to get even better, and that kind of backfired on me," Charles wrote. “The week after the Raiders game, we got into practice, and everything was going normally. Afterward, I stayed out doing some more extra work. Nobody was really out there besides the running backs, everybody had gone back in, just the running back coaches and the running backs were still outside. There were 5-10 of us at most.

“We were running through some drills, and when I went to make a cut, my leg just locked up. It wasn’t painful -- there was just something weird about it. It locked up, and I couldn’t walk. I had to be carted off the field. They did an MRI, but you couldn’t tell what was going on or what was wrong with me. After you have a knee surgery like I had, it’s hard to tell from an MRI what’s going on. I just knew for myself that even after they worked on my leg, something wasn’t right. I wasn’t the same."

Despite the problem, Charles suited up for the Saints game but played little and got the ball just once.

Charles eventually went to see noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Florida. Arthroscopic surgery revealed the meniscus tear. Charles had the meniscus repaired via a scope and the other knee cleaned up through a scope as well.

“When they told me it wasn’t my ACL, I was thankful," Charles said. “You have to be. Once you go through an ACL tear -- or two, in my case -- and you find out it’s just the meniscus, there’s some relief there. When you go through the process with the ACL, that really gives you some things to think about. A meniscus is minor in comparison. People have played through it, and guys tolerate that. My body wasn’t adapting to it, but that’s OK. I was thankful my ACL was still intact because it meant there was still a chance for me."

The Chiefs placed Charles on the injured reserve list after the surgeries, on Nov. 1. He was eligible to return to the Chiefs late in the season and Charles wrote that he discussed the possibility of making it back with Andrews. But the Chiefs didn’t activate him and Charles didn’t write why or whether he could have returned to play.

Charles, who turned 30 on Dec. 27, was similarly vague about whether he will again play for the Chiefs. He has one more season remaining on his contract.

“I honestly don’t know what the future holds for me," he wrote. “I know it’s God’s will and God’s purpose to determine what’s next for me. I’m just thankful. I’m thankful for my friends and my family and the people that surround me and support me through these humbling experiences. This is another crisis, another time falling down, but I know I’ll always get back up.

“What I do know is that I still want to play football. I was only 29 years old this season. My goal right now is to just focus on the now and my rehab and let the rest sort itself out later."

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expects every player to practice Tuesday as the team digs into preparation for Saturday's divisional playoff matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

"We're in a good shape in that way," Quinn said of the overall health of the team. "We anticipate, for tomorrow, everyone to be able to participate. So that's a good thing from our standpoint. There's a chance that some may be (limited), but we look strong heading into tomorrow."

The Falcons had a closed walkthrough Monday.

As the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Falcons earned a first-round bye, allowing injured players to rest up. Some of the bigger concerns, outside of top wide receiver Julio Jones' continued recovery from a toe sprain, was how cornerback Robert Alford and left guard Andy Levitre would respond coming off knee and hip injuries. Quinn previously said top-pass rusher Vic Beasley Jr. would have no limitations after suffering a shoulder injury.

Alford's status seems to biggest question mark of them all after he was held out of practice last week. The Falcons previously lost top cornerback Desmond Trufant to season-ending pectoral surgery, so they can ill-afford to be without Alford as well. He was injured in the regular season finale against the New Orleans Saints.

Quinn didn't sound overly concerned.

"We thought (Alford) looked good today," Quinn said. "It was limited today in terms of the speed that we worked with, but to see him move and kind of have his intent right, we were encouraged for sure."

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who tied Jones with a team-leading six touchdown receptions, just returned from a toe/ankle injury last week. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper also returned to practice last week off an MCL sprain.

Pernell McPheeDaniel Bartel/Icon SportswirePernell McPhee has 10 sacks in 23 games since signing with the Bears as a free agent in 2015.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- General manager Ryan Pace's first order of business in free agency two years ago was signing Pernell McPhee to a five-year contract at an average annual cost of $7.750 million ($15.5 million of the deal was guaranteed).

McPhee, the highest-paid member of Chicago’s defense, spent the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list after knee surgery robbed him of the opportunity to participate in the offseason program or training camp. He also missed Week 17 due to a shoulder injury.

In nine appearances in 2016, McPhee was primarily a rotational player, finishing with 16 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble.

McPhee being able to return at all is impressive, but any enthusiasm is tempered by the $7.675 million in cap space he ate up. That number will climb to $7.825 million in 2017.

McPhee, who’s collected close to $16 million from the Bears, played well for a chunk of 2015 before issues with his knee wore him down. McPhee is talented, but like so many other Bears, the problem comes down to availability.

McPhee’s played in only 23 games in Chicago, collecting a total of 10 sacks. He had a career-high 7.5 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014.

Still, Pace is undeterred.

“There might not be a player I’m more proud of than Pernell and the way he’s responded from this injury and the changes he’s made, not just in the building but out of the building with his diet and his weight and his work ethic,” Pace said. “He’s one of the top leaders on this team and people follow his attitude and his physicality. I think he got healthier and healthier as the season went on. I can think of practices when we were in the indoor [facility] and I’d see him coming around the corner, with the speed, and that’s the Pernell I’m used to seeing. Unfortunately with the shoulder injury, pursuing the ball, he’s going to overcome that.

“Pernell is a professional, Pernell is a leader and I think he’s going to get healthier and healthier. To answer your question, he is worth the investment and I hope to see that more next season.”

McPhee has a $200,000 roster bonus due on June 1.