Michael Vick

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

brianurlacher.png
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.

Twitter explodes over Mitch Trubisky's debut

tru.jpg
USA TODAY

Twitter explodes over Mitch Trubisky's debut

Mitch Trubisky definitely opened some eyes in his NFL debut. 

Before getting lost in hyperbole, we will concede that it is Week 1 of the preseason and most of his damage was done against the Broncos' second and third units. Nonetheless, Mitch-a-palooza was in full swing at Soldier Field. 

The rookie completed 18 of his 25 passes for one score and 166 yards, leading to high praise around the league. 

Michael Vick, who is no stranger to strong QB play, summed it up in elegant fashion: 

Being a dominant runner back in his day, Vick was probably dazzled by Trubisky's three carries for 38 yards. 

[MORE: Boy was Mitch Trubisky's coming-out party fun

Fellow North Carolina graduate and current Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron came away impressed as well:

Bears legend Brian Urlacher is all in on the Trubisky Parade, which he volunteered to lead after the 22-year-old's dominant outing: 

Even LeBron James chimed in, although mostly because his buddy Victor Cruz was the recipient of Trubisky's TD pass: 

The QB debate is buzzing, but Colin Cowherd, the overreaction oligarch, may want to pump the brakes a bit: 

The Trubisky hype is real. 

Quality in 2017 NFL Draft may work against Bears trading out of No. 3

Quality in 2017 NFL Draft may work against Bears trading out of No. 3

Signing Mike Glennon ostensibly settled the Bears' situation for their 2017 starting quarterback and dialed down urgency to use the No. 3-overall pick to find their right-now quarterback in this year's draft. That was considered a good thing, given that the general evaluations of the 2017 draft options were not the stuff of which No. 3's are made.
 
Reducing positional need creates draft flexibility, and the Bears are in the desirable position with options to add picks through trading down. But there's a catch.
 
The problem is not the quality of the draft as a whole, but rather the quality of individuals. Few players have to this point so significantly separated themselves from the field that they become far-and-away, must-have targets that a team or teams feel driven to trade up for.
 
Within the top five, that typically means quarterback: San Diego up to No. 2 for Ryan Leaf (1998), Atlanta up to No. 1 for Michael Vick (2001); Washington up to No. 2 for Robert Griffin III (2012); St. Louis up to No. 1 for Jared Goff, Philadelphia up to No. 2 for Carson Wentz (2016).
 
With Combine interviews and work done, and Pro Days and team visits to go, the best of the 2017 quarterback group has not inspired draft lust, at least not publicly.

[Buy Chicago sports tickets]
 
"I don't know that there's a quarterback — you never know; it only takes one team, right? — in this class that is going to drive a team to go and move up several spots, give away what they need to give up to move up and go get one," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Wednesday via conference call.
 
While the 2017 draft is considered to be extremely strong at number of positions, some of the diffused quality in fact may make it more difficult for teams like the Bears at No. 3 or San Francisco at No. 2 to pull off a desired trade-down.
 
"While there's a lot of good players at the top, I think that after [Texas A&M edge rusher] Myles Garrett there could be a little dropoff," McShay said. "Everyone else has something about them, maybe they're a good fit for one scheme but not another, but I would find it hard to believe that with that No. 2 pick, that [the 49ers] will be getting a lot of calls on it." And by extension, the Bears at No. 3.
 
The consensus favorites remain North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson from Clemson, but "they are truly late-first, second-round grades," McShay said. "It won't surprise me if one or both of them go in the top 10, but as we get closer, people are starting to realize that there's more value at other positions if you're talking about the first five or six picks of this draft."
 
Where mock drafts routinely will posit the same top 4-5 players in drafts, a current sampling using NFL Draftscout.com analysts has the Bears selecting Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, LSU safety Jamal Adams (2), Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (2) and Trubisky.