22 Starters in 22 Days: Mike Brown

When Mike Brown is on the field the Bears are a better football team, but the problem is he's missed 18 games over the past two seasons. Can the Pro Bowl safety stay healthy or has he become injury prone?

The Bears are a playoff caliber team with Brown (10-4), while winning at a .333 percent clip (6-12) without him on the field. Although there are other factors involved in both records, Brown is the leader of the secondary and along with Brian Urlacher the backbone of the defense.

"He's a guy that I have talked with on several occasions as far as being my voice out on the field," new secondary coach Steven Wilks said of Brown. "Taking the things from the classroom that we're trying to implement and then applying those things on the field. He's the quarterback back there. He's a guy that you need to be able to get everybody lined up.

"I use the term that Urlacher may be the heart of the team but in my opinion Mike Brown is the soul. So you're talking about heart and soul working together. He's a guy out there that's a big part of this defense particularly from a secondary standpoint."

After six years in the league, the wear and tear of the game may have something to do with Brown's recent physical problems. However, the five-foot-10, 207-pounder didn't miss a game in his first four seasons with the Bears.

The torn Achilles tendon that cost Brown 14 games in 2004 was a freak injury. He worked hard to get back last season and started the first 12 games before suffering a strained calf. He sat out the final four contests of the season, but returned for the playoff game only to aggravate the injury.

This off-season the team took precautions in an attempt to keep Brown in uniform. A training regiment designed by strength and coordinator coach Rusty Jones could help Brown. A similar program worked for Urlacher last year. He returned from a variety of leg injuries that plagued him in 2004 to win Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Even though the Bears took Danieal Manning in the second round of the draft to push Chris Harris at free safety, he'll also provide insurance incase Brown is unable to stay healthy.

At 28, Brown should have plenty of good years left. His first season at strong safety produced Pro Bowl results. He's the franchise record holder with six defensive touchdowns and the active leader with 14 interceptions.

An injury free campaign will all but guarantee Brown will play out the final three years on his current contract. On the other hand, more health issues could force the organization to make a tough decision next off-season.

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