Last year, he Chicago Bears squared off against the Minnesota Vikings in a meaningless season finale matchup. About midway through the contest, Brian Urlacher went up to deflect a pass in his own end zone. At the same time, safety Major Wright also attempted to make a play on the ball.
As Urlacher jumped straight up, Wright came in from the side of the play and knocked Urlacher to the turf. The linebacker's leg got caught underneath him and he landed awkwardly on his knee, twisting it unnaturally. Urlacher immediately left the game. He sustained damage to both his MCL and PCL.
The injury was not serious enough to require surgery but it was enough to keep him out of the Bears' offseason activities. Yet this afternoon, coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher is 100 percent and will be ready to go come the first training camp practice on Thursday. As a result, the coaching staff will not be taking it easy on the 34-year-old.
LB Brian Urlacher
Marilyn Indahl/US Presswire
"Not at all. He's ready to go," said Smith. "We're cautious with players when they're not fit and full-speed ready to go, but once we get them out there, we're never trying to take out any of our players in practice.
"You have to know how to practice, first off, to try to avoid injuries. I feel like we can do that, and if injuries happen, they just kind of happen. Brian has missed a lot of time. I know he's anxious to get back out there and we're anxious to get him out there."
A healthy Urlacher will be crucial to Chicago's chances of winning a championship in 2012. If he is hampered at all by the knee, the defense will take a big hit. Additionally, his career could take big hit, as Urlacher is a free agent after this season. If he doesn't demonstrate the same speed and change-of-direction ability that has made him a seven-time Pro Bowler, the organization will be very hesitant to re-sign him.
When asked about it this afternoon, GM Phil Emery was non-committal in his plans for the 13-year veteran.
"I'm content to focus on the team's movement toward its goals," Emery said. "Each and every contract situation is unique in of itself, and what we do as a personnel department, along with the coaches, is keep our eyes on the big picture. Our big picture right now is to get on the field and earn our place in the NFL everyday.
"I've had good conversations with Brian. That's a fine human being and obviously one of our top team leaders. Brian Urlacher has been a great Bears [player] and a great NFL football player. So yes, I've talked to him, and I'm excited about Brian and this season and our team."
It's likely Chicago's coaching staff will give Urlacher a few days of extra rest during camp, as they do with a lot of their veteran players. Yet it appears they aren't going to limit him while he's on the field. For his sake, as well as the team's sake, that better not lead to a re-injury.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.