Brian Urlacher bounces back
After spending 2009 season injured and grumpy, Bears LB is rejuvenated
'Fewer false steps' these days
It hasn't been hard to locate Urlacher this season, his 11th. He's usually in a familiar spot, crashing into the action, making the kind of head-turning plays that help energize a Bears defense that has rediscovered its groove.As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "He's definitely a tough matchup guy for any offense. It's a lot different throwing around a 6-foot-4 inside linebacker compared to a lot of guys who are shorter. ... He gets to a few balls most guys won't get to." Urlacher basically has played well enough to be a shoo-in for his seventh Pro Bowl nomination. Indeed, Urlacher was selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. He's been a star since entering the league as the ninth overall selection of the 2000 draft. Beyond numbers, there is an undeniable maturity in his game as well.
Wrist injury still a mystery
Urlacher still has a hard time understanding exactly what caused his injury or even how it became so severe. He was merely charging upfield to tackle Packers running back Ryan Grant in that 2009 season opener. He didn't land awkwardly. Yet when Urlacher emerged from the pile, he felt a searing pain in his right wrist.As he wiggled it gently while returning to the huddle, he looked at outside linebacker Lance Briggs and said, "I think I just broke my wrist."
Smith pulled Urlacher aside a few times to offer encouragement. On one occasion, the coach told the player that this would all be over in time, that he'd have ample opportunity to move on once the next season arrived.But there were still moments when Urlacher couldn't contain his emotions. One such occasion occurred last December, when Yahoo Sports ran a story that featured Urlacher watching a Bears-Vikings game and questioning the direction of the team with new quarterback Jay Cutler under center. Those comments became even more controversial since former Bears wide receiver Bobby Wade had said Urlacher had referred to Cutler as "a p----" earlier in the offseason. Though Cutler later dismissed the issue, Urlacher still claims he was venting about the Bears' losing instead of ripping the quarterback. "When I watch games and we're losing, I get pissed," Urlacher said. "I should've been smart enough to not make those comments with a reporter in the room. But I've also said much worse things in private. It was just a situation where I got frustrated." That frustration didn't subside until Urlacher finally returned to the field for offseason workouts. Suddenly, the same guy who rarely relished such sessions couldn't wait to get going. He was smiling constantly and pushing teammates to raise their energy levels. When Briggs walked into a meeting one day and admitted that he was having a hard time getting through those mundane sessions, Urlacher said he was happy to just be back in that position again. That optimism continued throughout the offseason as Urlacher saw what the Bears were doing to improve the team. He liked the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. He was even more thrilled by the free-agent signing of Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Urlacher also had no problem resuming his familiar role as team caretaker, even when it meant exchanging some verbal jabs with Bears icon Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back, in May. Urlacher was most upset that Sayers had questioned how Chicago would play this season while dealing with issues such as Urlacher's health and Smith's job stability. Urlacher responded by saying Sayers didn't have to right to criticize them since he'd never won a playoff game in his day.
He comes bearing gifts
Urlacher actually was in an excitable mood one recent Friday afternoon as he sat at the team facility and talked about his plans for Christmas. Since his kids were going to be with him that night to celebrate the holiday, Urlacher giddily discussed some of the numerous gifts he'd purchased for them.Among the most interesting was a skateboard for 5-year-old Riley. "It might sound strange to get a gift like that for somebody so young, but she's good," Urlacher said. "She can go to the park and do all kinds of things on those ramps." As Urlacher continued talking, it was easy to see the pride in his eyes. He was talking about one of his children throwing her body around and showing people that just about anything is possible with the right attitude. That happens to be the same way Riley's old man made a name for himself in the league. It's also why he's happier than ever to still have a chance to play this game. "I'll be honest, you do think about retiring at times because people start saying you're old in your 30's," Urlacher said. "But I still feel good. And as long as I can contribute, I'll be out there."
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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