Bears

Back to the Future: Urlacher hops in time machine

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Back to the Future: Urlacher hops in time machine

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
4:35 PM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Veterans will tell young players dealing with injuries that the long view is the way to look at those setbacks. "Think of it this way," a Bears veteran once told a rookie offensive lineman who was down about being ticketed for injured reserve with an injury. "You just got a year added onto your career."

The bromide does not just apply to young players. And sometimes it seems to add more than just one year to a career.

Brian Urlacher was lost for the 2009 season less than two full quarters into it when he suffered a fractured wrist in Game 1 last year against the Green Bay Packers. The 11-year veteran was 31 at the time and the immediate question of a fixture at one of the high-impact positions in professional football was whether he could in fact come back at his advanced NFL age.

The questions were proved right. He has not come back to the level he was playing at before the injury.

"Time machine" timeframe

He has, in the eyes of someone studying him very closely, come back better.

"He's got a time machine somewhere because he dialed it back three or four years, and he's playing at a really high level," said Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "I don't know if there's a middle linebacker playing at a higher level in the NFL.

"He's good against the run. He's good against the pass. All those things," Schwartz said. "There's not a whole lot of holes in his game. One-trick ponies, you can take out of the game plan. But Urlacher doesn't have those kind of weaknesses."

The only NFC linebacker playing at Urlacher's level, based on initial Pro Bowl votes at inside linebacker, might be San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis. But Schwartz and the Bears might call for a recount that plays out and Urlacher is not selected for his seventh Pro Bowl.

It would be his first since the 2006 season, meaning Schwartz's time-machine timeframe is just about right.

"I'm sure the year off didn't hurt me any," Urlacher said. "The way coach Lovie Smith structures our practices and training camp and the bye week, it gives us a chance to maintain your health. You're going to get banged up in the season but for the most part, knock on wood, we've been pretty healthy for the most part. The way he does practice lets us maintain that health."

Urlacher is the only member of perhaps the NFL's top defense to have at least one entry in every Bears defensive playmaker category: tackles (89, leads team), tackles for loss (9, leads team), QB pressures (3), sacks (2.5), interception (1), pass breakups (7, second to Charles Tillman), forced fumbles (1) and fumbles recovered (3, leads team).

Julius Peppers is missing just a fumble recovery; Lance Briggs lacks only a quarterback pressure.

"Everybody knows what Brian brings to the table, an incredible player and a key part of this defense," said defensive end Israel Idonije. "He's a leader. When you have your leader and your core back and doing what he does, he's like the quarterback of our defense, so it's big to have him back."

Urlacher is one of the reasons Peppers cites behind the defensive end's desire to play in Chicago.

Reversed aging?

Urlacher has posted double-digit tackle totals in three of the last four games (all Bears wins; coincidence?) and in five of the Bears' 11 games this season. In another indication that the time machine is fully operational and doing some reverse-aging, Urlacher had 10 double-digit games in 2006, seven in 2007 and three in 2008.

Yet not everyone is necessarily surprised by Urlacher's return from the wrist injury, but also ramping back to Super Bowl levels at age 32.

"I'm impressed by him every year," said Briggs, second to Urlacher with 81 tackles. "Injuries are a part of the game. When they happen, you have to bide your time until you're able to come back. Then once you're back, it's for a guy like him, there's no change.

"You just stay hungry. Once you get back out on the field, you get back out and you make plays because you're a playmaker."

Making changes

Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis has maintained his high level of play with the help of yoga. Urlacher told CSNChicago.com that his program is not specifically yoga but it is doing for him what yoga has done for Lewis.

"I've been doing a program that's pilates and yoga and stretching mixed in," Urlacher said. "I've been doing it for three years and my body feels great. It's a lot of core work and a lot of the guys on the team do it, too. When my back was hurting a couple years ago, I tried five, six things trying to feel better and it wasn't working.

"Then I found people who helped make it better. Thirty minutes a day and I feel great. I do it and my hips can move right, my back feels better, I can move again. I'll do it the rest of my life."

The Bears are seeing a lot of that life right now.

"We talked about him in training camp the same way," Lovie Smith said. "When you're Brian Urlacher and you're healthy, No. 1, you have a good chance of good things happening for you. Brian is a heck of a football player, one of the best around. He's played like that from the start of the season to now.

"We need those guys for this push right here. He played outstanding ball this week but we've talked about him; his grades from every game are about the same. He's capable of really taking a game over but that's just a matter of time before that happens."

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.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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USA Today Sports Images

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”