Dominating Defense Recognized

Lake Forest - The Bears will send more players this season to the Pro Bowl than they have in any of the past 15 years. That's what happens when the team is on the verge of clinching the NFC North crown because of the league's best defense.

Six players, including five from the NFL's No. 1 defense, will represent the Bears in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Feb. 12. Only the Colts, with seven, will send more. Four of the Bears - cornerback Nathan Vasher, tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Lance Briggs and safety Mike Brown - will be making their first trip, joining center Olin Kreutz, who made it for the fifth straight year, and linebacker Brian Urlacher, who's made it in five of his six seasons.

"I think it's a team type of award and I think the better we're doing the more players will end up going from this winning team and this defense," said Vasher, who is tied for the NFC lead with 8 interceptions. "I can't say too much about those guys."

Even though Harris had just 3.0 sacks, his play on the interior of the defensive line not only set up Briggs and Urlacher to make plays, but his linemates as well.

"He's someone that teams have to deal with each week," Lovie Smith said. "As coaches, we look at the tape, and you can't just go on numbers always. Numbers help a lot, but especially for interior guys, sometimes it's hard for them to get sacks. You have to look at their play. He has super talent and works hard and plays hard."

The Bears also had six players selected during the 1990 season. They had five in 1991 and in 2001, when they went 13-3, but during a five-year stretch from 1994-98 not a single Bear was voted to the Pro Bowl. The last time five Bears defenders made it was during the 1985 Super Bowl season.

"I thought all (of them) deserved it plus a few more," Smith said. "But still that's quite an accomplishment for our program, as we're trying to establish ourselves as one of the (best) teams in the league."

Urlacher and Kreutz have become regulars at the game, but the fact that their teammates will also be going to the game and it the honor comes in a winning season makes it that much more special.

"It means we're good," Urlacher said. "I mean we've got some good young talent on this team and it's nice to they got recognized for their play because they're not the biggest names and there are a lot of guys out there that get probably more recognition from the media but these guys go out there and play hard every week and they put it on film and the players around the league and the coaches around the league saw that that's why they're going."

Kreutz is a native of Honolulu who joked after making his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2001 that he was selected just because he lived there and he'd be in town anyway.

As usual, Kreutz credited his teammates for his success.

"It means my teammates did a lot for me," he said. "I've got a great o-line playing next to me. You don't play o-line by yourself. The guys who have suited up and played this year have done a (heck) of a job and got me some recognition. (Running back) Thomas Jones, I thought he should have made the Pro Bowl, and (offensive left tackle) John Tait should have made the Pro Bowl. With those kind of players around you, you're going to end up looking good."

But that doesn't mean Kreutz is boarding any of his teammates while they're in town for the game at Aloha Stadium.

"I'm going to hide from them," he joked. "Tell them, 'Don't call me up,' when they get there."

Defensive end Alex Brown and special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo were both first alternates to the NFC's Pro Bowl team, while defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and running back Thomas Jones were second alternates. Tight end Desmond Clark was a third alternate.

Ayanbadejo, a three-year veteran, led in the fan balloting but came up short for the second time after being a second alternate last season with the Dolphins. He had 23 special-teams tackles last season and has 22 so far this season.

"This is my best season so far," he said. "It's also the most I've been singled out by other teams because there's been games where, on kickoffs, I've been double-teamed the whole game. Two games in a row I didn't even get to run down there and just go against one guy. I had to go against two. I've never had that happen before.

"Last year every game I got double-teamed, but maybe it was just once or twice in the game, but not like it is here, where they do it the whole game. I think people know who I am. But I think next year will probably be better for like personal goals types of things."


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