Bears

Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot

Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot

There was little doubt Brian Urlacher would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — the question was if it would be in 2018 or 2019. That, on Saturday, he was elected on his first ballot in a deep class of finalists was a well-deserved recognition of the career of one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game.

Urlacher received at least 80 percent of the vote from the 48-person Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and will be enshrined in Canton in August, along with linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens and safety Brian Dawkins. Urlacher is the 28th Hall of Famer to make his name with the Bears, and will be the fourth former Bears linebacker to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. 

The 15 finalists in 2018 comprised what was considered a deep class — The Athletic’s Dan Pompei, a Hall of Fame voter who presented Urlacher, figured 85 percent of this group will eventually be elected. Urlacher overcame the committee’s perceived aversion to electing two linebackers in the same class; the last time that happened was 1990, which was also the last time two modern era defensive players who played the same position were elected in the same year. 

But Urlacher’s statistical profile and highly regarded intangibles made him a deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

Urlacher was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. The eight-time Pro Bowler also was one of three linebackers named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team. 

During a career that spanned from 2000-2012, Urlacher altered the course of Bears history and was the most important building block for the elite defenses of the Lovie Smith era (2004-2012). Urlacher totaled 1,779 tackles (via the Bears’ numbers) in 182 career games, along with 41 1/2 sacks, 22 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles. Urlacher started 180 of his 182 games with the Bears, good for the third highest total in franchise history behind Walter Payton (184) and Olin Kreutz (183). 

A true sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker who wasn’t afraid to take on opposing offensive lines, the Bears rode one of Urlacher’s four first-team All-Pro seasons to Super Bowl XLI in 2007. The Bears won the NFC North four times with Urlacher anchoring their defense; in those years, the team ranked first, first, third and fourth in points allowed per game. 

That’s just a snapshot of Urlacher’s career; his impact was felt well beyond individual and team statistics. Any Bears fan can attest to that, as can his former teammates and coaches. 

“You don’t get the chance very often to coach and be around a player and person like Brian Urlacher,” Smith told NBC Sports Chicago’s John “Moon” Mullin this week. “He absolutely knew what every player on the defense was supposed to do, on every play.”

And just as everyone in Chicago and connected to Urlacher had hoped, No. 54 is headed to where he belongs: Canton, immortalized among the greats of the game.

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via ChicagoBears.com. "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”