On the Right Track

Bourbonnais - The Bears are better off than they were after one practice a year ago. Not only is the talent level of the team improved, but maybe just as an important, Brian Urlacher walked off the field with a smile as opposed to a hamstring pull.

"I made it through day one," Urlacher joked. "I wasn't worried about it, I knew I was going to be okay, but in the back of your mind you never know. I'm just happy I got one down, I've got about 20 to go now."

Urlacher's fought three separate leg injuries, which set the tone for the season. He missed his first game of his five-year NFL career against Minnesota in Week 3 and in the process snapped streak of 64 consecutive starts. The Bears were winless in the seven games he missed.

Despite the abbreviated season, the four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker proved he is a force in Ron Rivera's defense. Urlacher finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks and went over the century mark in tackles for the fifth consecutive season.

In total the team finished with 12 players on injured reserve in 2004. The Bears are now seeing a positive from the number of starters that missed time. The depth on both sides of the ball has improved because players that will be asked to play supporting roles were forced to start last season.

"We know a lot more about our team right now," said head coach Lovie Smith. "But it's still good to get the guys that we think are our best players out there."

The Bears have taken a number of a number of steps during the off-season to keep players healthy, including cutting back on the number of two-a-day practices in training camp and turning to night practices in an attempt to avoid the heat.

"We're healthy and as long as we're a healthy football team we're a good football team and we like where we are right now," Smith said.

The Bears appear to be a loose bunch. Bobby Wade serenaded the crowd as he waited to return a punt. Mike Brown let it be known that he will be heard from on and off the field with shouts of encouragement for his defensive teammates.

"We have a lot of great characters around here, they know the job at hand," Smith said. "They're having fun and normally it shows when you're having fun and you enjoy what you're doing."


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