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You would think with six Pro Bowl appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year award and 1,406 career tackles, Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has cemented his place as one of the best linebackers in the National Football League.
Yet, after 10 solid seasons as the leader of the Bears defense, Urlacher still has many so called experts doubting his play for this upcoming season. Calling into question his age, injury history and overall decline in skills. The epitome of ‘what have you done for me lately’.
After shattering his wrist in the first game of the ‘09 season, Urlacher is anxious to get back on the field. Maybe a blessing in disguise, Urlacher’s wrist injury forced him to miss all of last season, but also gave the New Mexico product a chance to heal various back and neck issues that have plagued him for the past few years. Urlacher states that his body has not felt this good in some time and his range of motion is back to where it was in his early professional playing days.
With a unit that is under scrutiny after one of the worst defensive seasons in Bears history, the leader of that defense will be under tremendous pressure. Adding intrigue to an already alluring situation is the war of words between Urlacher and Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. Sayers called out Urlacher, quarterback Jay Cutler and questioned the future of head coach Lovie Smith. Which in turn, a rightfully so, the captain of the Bears (Urlacher) responded in protection of his team.
More so than just his physical play, Urlacher is the ‘quarterback’ of the defense. His responsibilities are to make sure the correct defensive scheme is in place before the ball is snapped and to make sure all of his defensive mates are in their correct positions, before the ball is snapped. Experience and knowledge cannot be taught, Urlacher has learned these tools by enduring many seasons in which the Bears defense lead the team and played countless game minutes due to an ineffective offense. Though fellow linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach did their best in replace of Urlacher last year, these are aspects of Brian’s game that were extremely missed.
There have been many new faces added to the Bears defense this offseason. However, the most important player coming into 2010 may be the one who has manned the middle for a decade, old reliable 54.
Brian Urlacher has proven that he is one of the few players in this league that can single handedly change a game; and after this season, he will also be the one to change the minds of his doubters.