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Lake Forest - Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher doesn't like to talk much about himself, but the prospect of his return Sunday from a strained right hamstring has Bears coaches and teammates saying plenty.

It's probably not a coincidence that the last time the Bears won a game is the last time Urlacher suited up. That was almost a month ago, on Sept. 19, when the Bears defeated the Packers 21-10 at Green Bay, permitting a season-low yield of points. There's no doubt in Bears coach Lovie Smith's mind that the defense is noticeably better with Urlacher.

"A lot better," Smith said. "He's the bell cow of the defense. As I tell Brian, we pay him a lot of money around here, and I think he's worth every penny of it. He's a good player, and he makes everybody else around him a lot better. We can't wait. This is the closest we've been to having our (whole) defense out there at the same time, so it's an exciting time."

Safety Mike Brown won't be back this season, and cornerback Charles Tillman won't return for at least another month, but Urlacher says he's healthier this time than when he returned for the season opener against the Lions after missing all of the preseason with an injury to the same hamstring. Urlacher had never been hurt before this season, but he said he won't hesitate when he steps on the field Sunday.

"I've got one speed when I'm out there, and hopefully it will never hinder me from playing like that," he said, "but we'll see what happens."

There was consideration given to spotting Urlacher in his first return from the injury, but he vetoed that plan. Smith was asked it that's a possibility this time around.

"For some reason, he doesn't go for that spot approach that we tried to take with him," Smith said," and I tend to listen to him a little bit. Whenever he's not out on the field, it's not good for the Bears. But there's a chance we won't play him the entire game. We'll just kind of see how it goes. He's feeling real good right now, though."

Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye has only been with the team for a short amount of time, but has noticed Urlacher's importance to the team.

"It's just with Brian a lot of guys look up to him including myself, look up to him as a leader, as the guy maybe on this defense. So having Brian back, not only (his) physical presence, but just his aura on the field lets everybody kind of come up to his style of play."

The only positive to come out of Urlacher's absence is the emergence of Hunter Hillenmeyer, who tallied 21 tackles in his two starts at middle linebacker. With Urlacher's return Hillenmeyer will now slide over to the strong-side, a position he hasn't played since college, as the Bears try to put the three best linebackers on the field.

"He earned the opportunity and we want to go ahead and see if he can continue to be a playmaker for us," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.


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