In this ongoing series, I'll look at which Bears I think will need to contribute the most in 2009 for them to have a successful season. Some things I thought about when compiling this list were: what potential impact they may have, how much the team will look to the individual for guidance or leadership, how badly the team would suffer if they lost the player to injury, and other intangible attributes. Hopefully this series will spark some good off-season Bears discussion!
#2 Brian Urlacher - Middle Linebacker
Quick. Who is the back up middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears?
Yahoo sports has no one listed backing up Urlacher. Either does The Sporting News, ESPN, or Fox Sports. CBS Sports has Mike Rivera listed as the #2 MLB. Mike Rivera? How about we let the undrafted rookie free agent make the team before we anoint him second string MLB? What about RotoWorld? Well, at least they have Hunter Hillenmeyer listed #2 on the depth chart, as does Brad Biggs of the Sun-Times. Then again, wouldn't you consider Hunter on the bubble to make the team this training camp? Biggs does; in the very same piece referenced a second ago.
The Bears team site doesn't have a depth chart for the '09 season up yet, but last year they had one up listing Nick Roach as Urlacher's back up. I did find a Fox Sports depth chart for week 17 last year listing Gilbert Gardner as the #2 MLB. The same Gilbert Gardner that isn't on the '09 roster.
OK, I'm sure by now my point is hammered home. The Bears without Brian Urlacher is like an Italian Beef with no Giardeniera. The potential is there to be real good, but something is just missing. In his 9 year career Urlacher has missed only 7 games, all in 2004, and the Bears lost all 7 of them.
When Lovie Smith accepted the Head Coaching position with the Bears before the 2004 season, I'll bet he was salivating with the thought of a 6'5" middle linebacker sprinting down the middle of the field in his version of the Tampa 2 defense he brought with him. No other MLB in the league has the size/speed combination and ball skills of Brian Urlacher. Without Urlacher the Bears defense simply can't do some of the things they'd like to do.
The Bears D is set up for the weakside linebacker to make plays, so I'm sure Lance Briggs will get his 100+ tackles again, but it's the unique play of Urlacher that they'll need to be a top 5 defense again. All early reports are that he's healthier than he's been and he's in great shape. A Pro Bowl return for Urlacher is a definite possibility.
The List so far:
#2 - Brian Urlacher - Middle Linebacker
If you missed any of the list so far just click on the link.