Bears

Welker, Woodhead proving stereotypes wrong

Welker, Woodhead proving stereotypes wrong

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 5:50 PM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead are spending a fair amount of time this season making NFL defensive backs look bad. They also are making more than a few so-called personnel experts look downright stupid.

They are living proof that living well is indeed the best revenge.

Welker is a shade under 5-9 and about 195 pounds, roughly the size of Carolina's Steve Smith or the Bears' Rashied Davis. He 'towers' over Woodhead, who lists at 5-7, 200 pounds.

Welker wasn't initially offered a scholarship, then was given one to Texas Tech when another player backed out of a commitment. Woodhead at least had the distinction of being given the first full athletic scholarship to Chardon State College (Neb.).

Welker was not invited to the NFL scouting combine. After all, he only ran a 4.65-sec. in the 40. Neither was drafted out of college. And for Welker, who has gone on to be named to Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams, those slights have mattered.

"I don't so much think about it anymore," Welker said. "Maybe earlier on but really I just try to do my best because I want our team to be successful, move the ball and do some things like that."

Welker in 2009 joined Brandon Marshall, Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore and Jerry Rice as the only receivers in NFL history to catch 100 passes in three straight seasons. He currently leads the Patriots with 72 catches (next closest is Deon Branch with 49) and 7 receiving touchdowns.

Woodhead this year has 355 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns and has caught 28 passes, one of those for a TD.

Both Welker and Woodhead have the unspoken satisfaction of shattering the cliched thinking that too often governs NFL personnel evaluators.

"I hope so," Welker said. "I think it's definitely something to look at and the main thing you can really do is look at the tape, see how a player plays and see what kind of production he's had. I think those things are the most key things to look at when you look at a player and not get enamored with the measurables when the Combine comes around."

Making an impression

Welker went to camp with San Diego in 2004 but was cut and went on to Miami. What he did there was deliver performances that specifically had to impress his future bosses.

In his rookie year Welker became just the second person in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt, kick an extra point and a field goal, and make a tackle in the same game.

That was against none other than the New England Patriots. In Miami's second game against New England that season, Welker broke a punt return 71 yards to set up a touchdown.

The Patriots had a good memory. They traded second- and seventh-round draft choices for Welker in 2007, perhaps figuring it was a good way to avoid having to deal with him twice a year on special teams.

And he fit some of the key concepts that the Patriots look for in personnel, notions that have served them well this decade.

"There are a lot of things we look for and it varies from position to position but in the end each player has his own unique set of skills and strengths and weaknesses; we all do," said coach Bill Belichick.

"The question really is what is the total balance in production of that whole skill set and how can it be used in a particular system or particular position. That varies a lot from player to player and sometimes from year to year."

Busting stereotypes

Welker and Woodhead also have gotten shots at receiver and running back despite the reality in some minds that NFL personnel evaluators look askance at white players at their positions the way personnel thinking made it difficult for black players to earn fair chances at quarterback, center and some other positions.

Welker does not rule out the possibility of a white player being overlooked but as far as that being common, "I don't think so," he said. "I think if you can play, you can play. I think there are plenty of white guys at the receiver position. I wouldn't know how many exactly but at the same time I wouldn't say someone's overlooked or it can't happen. If you can play, they're going to find a spot for you."

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.