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Smith staying positive as Bears wrap up offseason work

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The team Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith dismissed from Wednesday's final voluntary workout at Halas Hall is the same one he expects back July 22 for training camp in Bourbonnais.

"My glass is always, of course, full," Smith said. "We like this team. I liked last year's team. ... But for the most part we have our core back in place this year and I think this team we've seen here the last couple days can compete with anyone."

The Bears are prepared to go with rookie Matt Forte and the running backs on their roster, despite the decision to cut starter Cedric Benson following two offseason alcohol-related arrests. It's unlikely the Bears will be in the market for a free agent running back, even with veterans like Shaun Alexander and Ron Dayne seeking jobs.

"We don't have any plans to do that," Smith said. "From Matt to Adrian Peterson to Garrett Wolfe, to P.J. Pope, Matt Lawrence, we like all of our players and those are the ones that we're going with."

When camp opens, the starting quarterback battle between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton will resume in earnest.

Smith called the battle tied after minicamp and organized team activities.

"I think right now it is highly competitive," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "They both have done a great job doing what we ask them to do up to this point."

Orton anticipates the battle to last late into the preseason.

"The offseason makes everybody better, and I think we've both improved as players," Orton said.

Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester saw an improved Grossman in one respect: speed.

"I actually saw him run a quarterback sneak, and he showed a little burst out there," Hester joked.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher participated in some of the later workouts after missing the start in an unsettled contract dispute. Hester and defensive tackle Tommie Harris also seek contract extensions, but Smith expects all to report for the start of training camp.

"I'm not expecting anyone to hold out or anything like that," Smith said. "It's a whole different mind-set once we get down to Bourbonnais, and before you know it Bourbonnais will be here. We're not going to have any distractions. Once its time to play football were going to play football."

Before the Bears broke practice, Smith warned players about getting into off-field trouble over the next five weeks. He did the same thing last year, then Tank Johnson was arrested on an alcohol-related charge before being cut.

The Bears finished 7-9 last year and last in the NFC North, but Smith called the newly crowned NBA champion Boston Celtics an example of how a team can turn it around in a year.

"We've been in this situation before, so it's not new to us," Smith said. "We've been in last place and we've climbed that mountain. So that's the message going in (to camp)."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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