Star in the making

After Sunday, Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said he might have to reassess rookie linebacker Lance Briggs' status.

"Last week he was still a rookie," Blache said. "I'll have to look at the video after this one and let you know if he's still a rookie. He still does some (rookie) things, but he's maturing faster than most rookies do, that I have to give him."

Briggs has started the past five games on the strong side, and he's not playing like a rookie anymore.

Not after leading the team with 10 tackles, including nine solos against the Chargers in a 20-7 victory Sunday.

Since the first training camp practice in pads back in July, Briggs has impressed coaches and teammates with his love of contact. But, when he was promoted to the first string for the fourth game of the regular season, the strong-side linebacker wasn't always where he was supposed to be in the defensive scheme. On Sunday, it seemed he was constantly in the right place at the right time.

"He's learning where to fit," Blache said. "He's asking the smart questions on the sidelines, he understands what we're doing quite well right now. I'm talking to a different person on the sideline (now) than I was four weeks ago.

"This guy understands. Even the questions he asks, he's asking the pertinent questions. Before, he wouldn't ask you anything. When you talked to him, you could look in his eyes and you knew he had no idea what you were talking about. Now he does. Now he actually knows enough to ask questions. He's got enough information that he can do that."

Several times Sunday Briggs went mano-a-mano with LaDainian Tomlinson. More often than not, the rookie got the best of the Pro Bowl running back, something few players in the NFL can say. Twice Briggs dropped L.T. for losses on running plays.

"I thought Lance showed up a lot," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "He made a lot of plays, and he made plays in the open field on LaDainian Tomlinson, which is not am easy thing to do."

Tomlinson came into the game as the Chargers' leading receiver with 43 catches. He caught four passes against the Bears, but for a total of only 21 yards, and each time Tomlinson caught a pass, Briggs was the tackler.

"It's like night and day," Briggs said of his development the past five weeks. "Understanding the defense is a big part of being successful. You can't fly to the ball without knowing when to do that and where to go. Once you know that, you can play with all your athletic ability."

Briggs' improvement has dovetailed with that of the team's, and the confidence across the board has skyrocketed.

"Coach Blache always reiterates, 'Don't be afraid to fail,'" Briggs said. "It seems like we have a lot more confidence now than there was earlier. We just needed to stop thinking something bad was going to happen and start thinking something good's going to happen."

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