Best is yet to Come

Brian Urlacher appeared ready to realize his big-play potential last season in Ron Rivera's defense, but three separate injuries caused him to miss the first seven games of his career and derailed his season. While he still posted numbers that would make most middle linebackers smile, a national publication dubbed him "the most overrated player in the NFL".

Even though he was limited by hamstring injuries in both legs, Urlacher finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks, picked off a pass and forced two fumbles.

That only served to heighten the anticipation for this season.

"I think he can have a great year," coach Lovie Smith said. "Every time I talk with Brian I talk about him being one of the all-time great middle linebackers to play the game. I'm saying the same thing right now. He's healthy. It's the second year in the system for him. It should make a big difference. We're just looking for an excellent year from him."

Urlacher didn't go to the Pro Bowl for the first time his five-year career. Part of the reason for the snub was his injury, but the fact that the team went 0-7 without him on the field proved his worth in a season that a national magazine named him the most overrated player in the NFL.

Despite playing in just nine games, Urlacher went over the century mark in tackles for the fifth straight campaign. He's amassed 785 tackles, which is the highest total for any Bear during their first five years in the league.

Urlacher is healthy and eager to prove why he should be considered for the Defensive Player of the Year honors.

"Lovie (Smith) said last year and I agree with what coach said, there's never been a middle linebacker with his ability in this system and in this system it could be tremendous what he does," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

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