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.

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

The 2019 college football regular season is over, which means the 2020 NFL draft season is right around the corner. Underclassmen are declaring by the day, all-star rosters are filling out and, of course, mock drafts are being published.

The really unique thing about the Bears in 2019 is how fluid their likely NFL draft needs have been. A few weeks ago, quarterback would've topped the list. Now? Not so much. Tight end, a position that's been non-existent in Chicago's offense all year, suddenly has two players (J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted) who've garnered some excitement.

Seasons like this year make trying to pinpoint which direction GM Ryan Pace will go in April's draft extremely challenging. According to the Draft Wire's latest three-round mock draft, the Bears will grab help for the secondary and offensive line in Round 2.

Their first selection (as of the start of Week 15) comes at No. 45 overall from the Raiders. Chicago uses that pick on Utah cornerback, Jaylon Johnson.

It's hard to argue this projection. The Bears may have a bigger need at cornerback by the time the draft rolls around than they do right now if they decide it's time to part ways with veteran starter Prince Amukamara. Chicago needs to make some difficult salary-cap decisions this offseason, and moving on from Amukamara would free up roughly $9 million in cap space. 

Johnson (6-0, 190) will be part of the second wave of cornerbacks to get drafted this year. He isn't a first-round talent, and barring an elite showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he should be available in the middle portion of the second round.

The Bears land offensive line help at No. 50 overall in this mock draft via Tennessee's Trey Smith.

A former five-star recruit, Smith's talent is undeniable. It's first-round worthy. His medicals, however, are not.

After dealing with blood clots in his lungs in 2018, Smith returned to action this season and was once again a dominant force. He projects as an interior player in the NFL and would be an ideal target for a Bears team that needs to add more talent at guard in their effort to replace longtime starter, Kyle Long.

Smith's medical history is likely to push him into Day 3, however, at which point he'll qualify as one of this year's best value selections.

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Matt Nagy thinks about the Packers a lot. 

He thinks about his first career game as an NFL head coach, at Lambeau Field, and how he’ll “never forget that day, that game, for so many different reasons.” 

He thinks about his first NFC North title, which was clinched when Eddie Jackson intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, avenging the season’s earlier loss.

And he thinks about Week 1 of this season, when millions of eyes tuned in on Opening Night to watch a supposed Super Bowl contender score three points, at home, in a loss to the Packers. 

“I try not to remember too much of that,” he said. “That was a rough one.”  

It just so happens that, this week, everyone else is thinking about the Packers too. On the surface level, it’s the 200th meeting in one the league’s most storied rivalries, and a pivotal game in this year’s race for the second Wild Card spot. There’s Aaron Rodgers, who Nagy called, “competitive as hell.” There’s a talented-and-maybe-underperforming defense, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the edges creating matchup nightmares for an offensive line that’s undergone more change than anyone. 

“We knew what kind of players they were,” he added. “They’re not unknown anymore.” 

If you wanted to get esoteric, there’s a great redemption narrative to Sunday’s game too. The Packers came into Chicago and exposed the Bears’ starters – who, you’ll remember, sat out the preseason. Things would get worse – so much worse – but the book was out on Nagy’s Bears, and it took them three months to recover. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now,” Mitch Trubisky said. “We’re a different team. There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Things have been different than Week 1, even if you couldn’t say that until Week 12. Nagy has admittedly found a better rhythm as a play-caller, and many of the issues that plagued the Bears in Week 1 haven’t been an issue lately. The tight end room is producing, they’re shifting through personnel groupings less, and the run game has stabilized – all vital components of the offense that best suits the 2019 Bears. It’s not what Nagy envisioned, but 202 ended up being formative in ways he never expected. 

“I feel like a better coach going through this for the players, for my coaches and just the way we communicate,” he said. “The honesty, the belief in one another; going through this is important and it'll help me in the long run, to be able to handle these type of situations when they arise again.”