Urlacher sets sights high in '04

When you think of the greatest linebackers to ever suit up Lawrence Taylor, Jack Ham, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis comes to mind. While Brian Urlacher's name might not roll right off your tongue, after this season that may not be the case.

Urlacher is ready to quiet his critics. The man is on a mission to take the Chicago Bears to the playoffs and his place among the best defensive players in the game.

There are many reasons the Bears struggled to a 7-9 record, but the detractors pointed to Urlacher's solid but hardly dominating stats last season as more than a contributing factor.

The fact that Urlacher made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time despite not being involved in a turnover and only producing 2.5 sacks proves the respect his peers have for him.

There have been whispers that the converted college safety can't shed blockers and that the NFL has figured him out.

Of the vast changes the Bears have gone through this off-season the biggest question could be how Urlacher will be utilized in Lovie Smith's new system. Will the attacking scheme lead Urlacher back to the dominating player that he was during the 2001 and 2002 campaigns?

Urlacher holds the Bears single season record for tackles and now after an off-season of extreme high altitude training he is in the best shape of his life. But now he has a chance to become something really special, to become the game's best defensive player and start to make a case for becoming the best linebacker of all time.

Ray Lewis is widely considered the best linebacker and player in the game today, but the veteran had off-season shoulder surgery and entering his ninth year in the league this could be the first chink in the armor.

Urlacher ‘s chances of becoming the best in the game hinge on defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Smith. Rivera is going to stress a system based on speed and blitz packages. Rivera has said that his scheme mixes heavy blitzes with a hybrid of the cover 2 and a splash of the old 46 defense.

In this system speed is the key word. Urlacher is going to have an opportunity to make big plays because on his athletic ability. The only challenge for this coaching staff is going to be getting him into open space to use his speed. The defensive scheme that Greg Blache used last season took Urlacher out of several plays. He was unable to shake the first block and therefore was seconds slower getting to the play. Even in Lewis' best seasons he had huge defensive lineman to eat up blockers.

Urlacher should be utilized in the same way Bill Parcells used Lawrence Taylor, almost as another defensive end.

The Bears have lacked a true pass rushing presence and Urlacher could make all kinds of trouble for opposing quarterbacks. This is not to say rush Urlacher on every down, but allow him the freedom that "LT" was allotted in the eighties to go and cause havoc in the backfield. Urlacher has the unique talent that forces offensive coordinators to plan against. Blache used Urlacher in coverage way too much and took away from his great nose for the ball.

Imagine Urlacher coming off the end with a burst of speed and penetrating the backfield before the quarterback has time to know what has hit him. Smith wants to use a more attacking system on both sides of the ball. Why not use your best defensive weapon in the way that he would be most effective?

With Lewis is getting older and questions about his shoulder it's time for the torch to be passed. What better player to take on the role of the best defensive player in the league than Urlacher? It would only be fitting that the best middle linebacker in the game resides in Chicago, a city with the tradition of Butkus and Singletary. Urlacher may even have a chance to be the best linebacker to ever play the game when it is all said and done.

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