22 Starters in 22 Days: Brian Urlacher

When you are the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, there figures to be little you can improve upon in your game. However, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher appears to be the exception to the rule.

The six-foot-4, 258-pounder has only played the position since coming to the Bears as the ninth overall pick in the 2000 draft. Urlacher's technique has been refined over the past six seasons to where his fundamentals now match his athletic ability.

While Urlacher won Defensive Rookie of the Year and became a perennial Pro Bowl selection, his numbers have actually improved in the current defensive scheme. Over the past two seasons (25 games) he has produced 276 tackles and 11.5 sacks.

The 27-year-old has been a model of consistency, going over the century mark in tackles every season. He's led the team in the category each campaign except 2004, when he missed seven games because of leg injuries.

There's no disputing the five-time Pro Bowler is one of the best defenders in the game, but there's room for growth. Uncharacteristically, Urlacher was only involved in one turnover last year. During his first three seasons in the league, he had six interceptions but picked off only one pass from 2003-05.

Part of the reason for the drop-off is because teams game plan away from Urlacher. He takes away options in the pass and run game because of his sideline-to-sideline speed.

Urlacher is good enough to make his teammates better. He joined with Warrick Holdman and Rosevelt Colvin to form one the best starting trios in the game. When free agency broke up the group, Urlacher helped Lance Briggs develop into an All-Pro linebacker.

It's not a coincidence that players have enjoyed success lining up next to Urlacher. He's often the focus of the opposing offense, yet is always around the ball and creates opportunities for teammates to make plays.

A 2004 article named Urlacher as the most overrated player in the game. The Bears know better than anyone the absurdity of the idea. In the middle of a debate about the piece, the team went 5-11 and finished last in the NFC North. Still, with Urlacher on the field the Bears were 5-4.

The Bears have compiled a 44-52 mark during Urlacher's tenure in Chicago. The only two winning seasons have been followed by quick exits from the postseason. The lack of playoff success has led to a belief that he's not gotten the job done when it mattered most.

The truth of the matter is the best defense in the NFL is built around Urlacher. He finally has talent around him to share the load. The question is whether or not the offense can do the same.

Aside from winning a Super Bowl ring, Urlacher has accomplished everything on the field a player can dream of. Adding world champion to his resume would ensure him of a trip to Canton and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when everything is said and done.

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