In honor of Brian Urlacher heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’re sharing some our of past Urlacher articles to our front page for you guys to reminisce on.
Players in contention: Lance Briggs (2003-2013), Joe Cain (1993-1996), Rosevelt Colvin (1999-2002), Hunter Hillenmeyer (2003-2009), Warrick Holdman (1999-2003), Dante Jones (1988/1993-1994), Pernell McPhee (2015-2016), Barry Minter (1993-2000), Vinson Smith (1993-1996), Brian Urlacher (2000-2012), Willie Young (2014-2016)
If Wikipedia is the modern dictionary, it’s probably a pretty good sign for the Bears that on the Wiki page called “linebacker,” the main photo is of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs playing the Packers.
That’s the equivalent of the old, “If you look up the word _______ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of _______.”
For the All-Bears Post-Ditka linebacking corps, we’ll play a 4-3, and we’ll start with the most obvious spot: middle linebacker, and Brian Urlacher.
In college, Urlacher may not have seemed an obvious successor to the franchise’s historic middle linebacker lineage, from the position’s founder Bill George to its first perfecter Dick Butkus to the man who set a new standard for speed and smarts in Mike Singletary. Urlacher played some linebacker in college, but also DB, excelling in a hybrid position.
With the veteran Barry Minter in the middle and Urlacher’s speed such an unusual asset, Lak began his career as an outside linebacker. That lasted all of two weeks. Minter hurt his back, Urlacher got his first NFL start in the middle, and the rest is Hall of Fame history. Urlacher is our starting middle linebacker.
In 2003, the Bears drafted Urlacher’s longest running linebacker partner: Lance Briggs, out of Arizona. Briggs played 11 seasons in the NFL, all in Chicago, and was a Pro Bowler from 2005 to 2011 with a 1st team All Pro selection in 2005.
Though his legacy has faded ever-so-slightly on a national level since retiring (due, I think, to the late-career rise of his draftmate Peanut Tillman), younger Bears fans should know that Briggs was consistently considered among the NFL’s top outside linebackers for the bulk of his career — the 1A on the Lovie-Bears D to Urlacher’s 1.
Fittingly, he trails only Urlacher in tackles in franchise history. He is a no-doubt-abouter on the All-Bears Post-Ditka team.
Which brings us to our one, monumental question:
Who joins Urlacher and Briggs?
For the time being, as I stated, let’s plan this unit for the 4-3. We’ve got Urlacher in the middle and Briggs on the weak side. There is a lot of strong competition for the strong side spot. We could go with Hunter Hillenmeyer, the third starting linebacker in Super Bowl XLI, and a man who twice filled in for Urlacher in the middle — for 7 games in 2004, and for the final 15 games of 2009.
We could move Minter to the outside, or go with one of the solid 1990s OLBs in Joe Cain and Vinson Smith.
We could use current Bear Pernell McPhee — and if we were running a 3-4, edge rushers Willie Young and Leonard Floyd might be in contention.
Or we could use one of Urlacher’s original two linebacking partners, Warrick Holdman, recreating the team’s starting trio in 2003, when Briggs was a rookie and Holdman was in his final season with the Bears.
But to me, the pick is Urlacher’s other linebacking partner from the start of his career, the man who joined Urlacher and Holdman on the powerful 2001 defense: Rosevelt Colvin.
Colvin and Holdman were selected five picks apart in the 4th round of 1999, Holdman at 106 and Colvin at 111. Holdman started first, during their rookie year, and got more run the following season when Urlacher was a rookie. Colvin started eight games in 2000 and became a full time starter in 2001, where he established himself as a pass-rush specialist.
He nabbed 10.5 sacks in 2001, and then with Holdman (and so many others) landing on IR in 2002, Colvin racked up another 10.5 sacks. He left after 2002 via free agency, signing with New England as the first major free agent signing of the budding Patriots dynasty.
Still, I think there is enough wiggle room for debate on this linebacking corps that I took this to my WCG colleagues. Here were there picks:
3-4: Urlacher (JACK)/Freeman (MIKE)/Young*/McPhee
*Floyd doesn't have enough tape
3-4 is tough with lack of years in defense. Still, Urlacher would be a great JACK. I switch McPhee to Colvin for 3-4 OLB.
On the 4-3, I have to go Hillenmeyer. Not only did he complete the set for the strongest unit in the PD era, but he was also able to take over for Lach when #54 was injured. He wasn’t as good, but anyone who remotely filled those cleats deserves the nod.
For 3-4... I just don't know.
I feel like Colvin would have transcended schemes, like Urlacher. I feel like that has to be worth something. So Briggs/Urlacher/Colvin.
4-3: Urlacher in the middle, Briggs at the weakside OLB, Rosevelt Colvin at the strongside OLB.
Urlacher and Briggs are no-brainers in the 4-3. Colvin was a good football player and probably gets the nod here over Hunter Hillenmeyer, Joe Cain, or Warrick Holdman.
3-4: Urlacher / Briggs in the middle, Rosevelt Colvin at the WILL, Pernell McPhee at the SAM.
I always thought Briggs would make a good middle linebacker. His ability to read the play, sneak through gaps and stop the run was top notch. He and Urlacher would be interchangeable at the MIKE and JACK, plus Urlacher would be able to step out to the edge and rush the passer on occasion.
Colvin won a ring with the Patriots as a 3-4 OLB and McPhee is the prototypical 3-4 SOLB, he just needs to stay healthy.
4-3: Urlacher at MIKE, Briggs at WILL and Colvin at SAM.
3-4: Urlacher at MIKE, Briggs at JACK (almost chose Freeman), Colvin at SAM and McPhee at WILL.
I’d say 4-3 has to be Briggs-Urlacher-Colvin. I loved Holdman as a player, but Briggs was better for longer.
3-4 gets into a really juicy debate. I’m with Lester that Briggs slides inside to pair with Urlacher. Always felt he had the skillset to play there, even if he wasn't really open to the idea.
As an aside — Jerrell Freeman is completely underrated. He is such an excellent football player against both the run and the past, but Briggs’s knack for delivering impact combined with excellent range (in his healthy prime, not his later years) puts him over the top.
Freeman gets a serious honorable mention. If you missed John Owning's piece on him today check it out.
On the outside things get testy. I think McPhee is an absolute force when he’s healthy, but that is such a small amount of the time. Makes it tough for me to choose him. Hoping he stays healthy all year this year and makes me eat some serious crow. I'd love that and opponents would hate it.
Colvin was a beast, so I’ll take him on one side.
On the other side I'm going to go out on a limb, and take Floyd. Hoping his own injury issues don't derail what I think could be a special career. He’s got a remarkable mix of skills: 1.) a true pass rusher with tremendous length, 2.) a underestimated player versus the run who can and does set the edge, and 3.) has the speed and agility to drop in coverage or run with a TE down the seam.
There is no other player on the list quite like that so I'll roll the dice.
As for my picks for a 3-4, I want Briggs and Colvin on the outside, and joining Urlacher in the middle is one of my all-time favorite Bears, Dante Jones. He only played two years after Ditka (1993 and 1994), but he was brilliant in 1993 as a first-year starter after five years as a backup: four interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 3 recovered fumbles, 1 sack, and 1 defensive touchdown in the famed 3 defensive TDs game against Green Bay.
Still though, I want to hear from readers on this. Hit the polls below and vote for our starting linebackers!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: the greatest position in Bears history... the running back...
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Other than Brian Urlacher, who is your choice for best Bears middle linebacker of the post-Ditka era? (1993-2016)
This poll is closed
Joe Cain (one season)
Hunter Hillenmeyer (2004 and 2009)
Other than Lance Briggs, who is your choice for best Bears OLB in a 4-3 of the post-Ditka era?
This poll is closed