I'm using the same criteria I used last year in trying to rank the Top 10 Most Important Bears. I'm not only going to look at any potential on field impact they may have, but also the individual's leadership, and also depth at the position (would losing him be a huge blow or not), and in the case of my next guy, losing him was a gigantic blow.
Maintaining his place at #2 on my list is middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher. He is without question the prototype MLB for the Tampa 2 scheme, and until the Bears no longer run that defense, Urlacher will be the most important piece of their D.
First off, I did think his backups performed admirably last year. Nick Roach was better at OLB, and Hunter Hillenmeyer showed how valuable he is as a back-up. But how many games did we see a play not made because it wasn't #54 out there? No one can go sideline to sideline like Urlacher can. No one understands the defense like he does. No other Bear can take away the middle third in zone like he can. He embraces his leadership role on the defense, and when he went down, no one really stepped up to take that responsibility. I'm not saying there were no other leaders on that D, I'm just saying no one took their leadership to another level. The things Brian Urlacher can bring to the Bears can not be replaced.
As pointed out splendidly by eldilar last week in my Julius Peppers post (he was #3), without Urlacher the Bears 3rd down defense ranked 27th in 2009. After ranking 5th, 2nd, 2nd, and 2nd, the previous 4 years. I'm sure an improved pass rush will help that number, but so will a healthy Urlacher patrolling the middle of the field. And he has been relatively healthy throughout his career. Besides missing all but a handful of snaps in 2009, the only other year he's missed any time was 2004 when he sat out 7 games. In which the Bears lost all 7. So if you're scoring at home, the Bears are 7-15 when Urlacher misses a game.
He's a team captain, the face of the defense, and the unquestioned leader of the D. The optimist in me says the year off will be great for his overall health, but the pessimist in me realizes at some point age will catch up to him. I just hope Father Time is still a couple years away.
The list so far:
#10 - Robbie Gould - Kicker
#9 - Matt Forte - Running back
#8 - Olin Kreutz - Center
#7 - Mike Martz - Offensive Coordinator
#6 - Chris Harris - Safety
#5 - Chris Williams - Left Tackle
#4 - Tommie Harris - Defensive Tackle
#3 - Julius Peppers - Defensive End
#2 - Brian Urlacher - Middle Linebacker