Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has been playing in the NFL since 2000. The former first-round draft pick has started 170 games in the navy and orange, which includes last night's 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The sample size is more than large enough for us to know what to expect from Urlacher on the game field. We've seen him perform for more than 12 seasons, so when something isn't right with the Future Hall of Famer, it's easy to spot.
Urlacher sprained the MCL and PCL in his left knee in the season finale last year. He may or may not have had surgery on it – it depends on who you talk to – and missed all of the team's offseason activities. Yet when training camp rolled around, there was Urlacher on the Bourbonnais practice fields in his familiar middle linebacker position.
LB Brian Urlacher
David Banks/US Presswire
Yet he injured the knee again just four days into camp, an injury he said was unrelated to the one suffered in 2011. The new malady required arthroscopic surgery less than a month before the start of this season.
"One of those first few days, I don't think I injured it, it just got aggravated," Urlacher said last week. "I hadn't done that much in the offseason. I ran the whole month of June and July before we got to training camp, but nothing like we were going through in training camp. So I think I just aggravated it a little bit and got some things loose in there. We cleaned it out and now it's good.''
He played in Week 1, as he said all along he would do, yet he was pulled in the third quarter of a lopsided win. Coach Lovie Smith said it was a coach's decision his team captain and had nothing to do with the knee.
"Brian wanted to play the entire game," Smith said after the win against the Colts. "When we told him he was coming out, it's not like he told us that it was a great idea. He knows that there's a big picture. We wanted to get him a little bit of work. It's his first action. It's like in a preseason game, you're not going to let a guy go that entire time unless you have to, and we didn't have to today."
Yet in last night's contest, Urlacher was on the field the entire game. He racked up eight total tackles, second best on the team. At first blush, it may appear all is right with the team's defensive leader. Yet after some time in the film room, it's obvious Urlacher is severely hindered by his left knee.
Against the Packers, he showed absolutely no explosiveness. It took him far too long to accelerate into a full gallop, which compromised his ability to drop into his deep middle zone. He wasn't awful in coverage but there were a number of snaps that had Urlacher been fully healthy, he would've made a play on the ball.
Yet it was against the run where he showed the full extent of his injuries. Right now, he does not possess the ability to change direction. He has no lateral movement and is strictly a North-South player. If you run right at him or at a soft angle away from him, he can still make the play. But if you cut back on him, he has no chance.
LB Brian Urlacher
He cannot plant hard on the leg, which doesn't allow him to hold his ground when blockers lock on. On numerous runs, offensive linemen forced him past the play. All Urlacher could do was shuffle his feet to slow down and never once tried to plant and drive back into the blocker. Edge plays ate him up.
Heading into the season, the Bears new opposing offenses were going to test Urlacher by running plays right at him.
"If they want to test me, I'll have more chances to make plays then," Urlacher said before the Colts game.
Lance Briggs believed it to be a futile effort.
"They can try [to test him]," said Briggs. "They will fail."
The Packers did just that, rushing 28 times for 106 yards, with Cedric Benson coming through on a number of big runs to keep drives alive. Most of those carries were run in Urlacher's direction.
The worst part about the film is the obvious hesitancy Urlacher showed. Whether it's a physical or mental hurdle, he is absolutely unwilling, or unable, to go all out on the game field. It's as blatant as the night is dark and it affected him last night. Throughout a full season of wear and tear, how much worse is this situation going to get?
It's a question Chicago's coaching staff needs to ask themselves. They have a capable backup middle linebacker in Nick Roach and a solid outside backup in Geno Hayes. Smith and Co. need to decide whether 75 percent of Urlacher is better than 100 percent of Hayes.
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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.