The 2003 waiver wire pickup was about to replace Brian Urlacher for his first career start due to the Bears' star's pulled hamstring-- the first game he has missed since becoming a starter. "My coaches told me don't try to be Brian Urlacher, that I need to go out there and be myself and do the best that I could do,'' Hunter Hillenmeyer said.
Hillenmeyer didn't try to act like Urlacher. But then again, he didn't know he was going to have to be a defensive back, either.
The former Vanderbilt player was victimized in one of the game's key plays when he got caught in one-on-one coverage far downfield with wide receiver Randy Moss-- a task normally reserved for a defensive back. The 44-yard gain came 1-1/2 minutes into the second half and led to a 17-6 Vikings lead, forcing the Bears into the unenviable job of playing catch-up in the Metrodome.
"It's not ideal, but on a play like that where the linebacker really only has to cover between the hash (marks) and I should have made the play," Hillenmeyer said.
The Bears were in a cover-2 zone, with the safeties each going out toward the sideline to help on other receivers. In that coverage, the middle linebacker is the only other one left to handle deep center. Urlacher is fast enough to do this, but very few linebackers are.
The ball came down over Hillenmeyer's head and Moss gave him a bit of a fake, which helped with the catch.
"He's a very experienced player," Hillenmeyer said of Moss. "Normally when you're covering a guy like that and you have your back turned, you put your hands up and his eyes light up."
Moss gave no such indication of the ball coming, so Hillenmeyer was stunned to see the receiver suddenly stick out his hands before the ball fall in them.
"I guess that's a good play by him," Hillenmeyer said. "If I got my hands in there it would have been a good play by me."
It wasn't an entire disaster for Hillenmeyer or all of the other four Bears reserves who came into the game to spell injured players: safety Todd Johnson, cornerback Todd McMillon, defensive tackle Tank Johnson and safety Cameron Worrell.
Hillenmeyer kept the Bears in the game when they faced a 17-6 deficit by recovering a fumble caused by Michael Haynes' hit on wide receiver Kelly Campbell. It came on an end-around at the Bears' 13 as the Vikings moved in for what could have been a clinching score.
"I was just trying to make sure I picked it up," Hillenmeyer said. "I mean, it was sort of like everybody thought it was a blown play or dead play at first because everybody was just standing there.
"We work on that every day-- trying to scoop the ball up and score."
Hillenmeyer, who finished with five fumble recoveries, doesn't know if he'll be playing Sunday in Soldier Field in place of Urlacher. Neither do the Bears.
"I don't know exactly how long it will be," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's not as serious as it was before (in training camp). Hopefully this coming week, he'll be back in there."
Urlacher might have hamstring soreness, but Hillenmeyer thinks he'll be sore all over.
"I'm going to be sore tomorrow," Hillenmeyer said. "It's one thing to play special teams where you only get 15-20 snaps a game. This is the first real football game I've played since I was in college."