When Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher sat out of practice for the first time last week, no rational person thought anything of it. After all, veteran players are often given days off from training camp as both courtesy to them for the work they’ve put in and to give younger players an opportunity to be seen.
Last year’s knee injury aside, Urlacher is a veteran of 12 NFL seasons and has been in Lovie Smith’s defense for the past eight years. In other words, preservation is more important than preparation for a future Hall of Famer who can make the deep drop in his sleep.
When one missed practice rolled into four straight, and with the recent news that Urlacher will miss Thursday’s exhibition opener against the Denver Broncos, suddenly there’s a cause for concern that Urlacher’s rehab from last season’s knee injury in the season finale is not yet complete. Now there is a reason to be worried that Urlacher is finally showing signs of breaking down, and that last year may have been his last Pro Bowl season.
The truth is, the Bears do not need Urlacher to perform at a Pro Bowl level for them to have a good defense. They simply need him on the field, calling the shots, and making enough plays to keep opposing offenses out of the end zone.
If Urlacher is unable to participate in any preseason games, how will that, combined with his inactive offseason, affect his conditioning during the regular season? What if his knee feels good by opening day, he gives his all against the Indianapolis Colts, and then has to battle the soreness the rest of the season?
This is the thought that keeps Bears coaches up at night and the one that is like a wet blanket over the Super Bowl hopes and dreams of Bear Nation.
There has been speculation that perhaps Urlacher should get his knee scoped to clean it up. That would have him miss only a short period of time before he could return to the field and hopefully put the soreness behind him. But the window of that kind of procedure is extremely small at this point. The Bears would certainly need Urlacher for Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, Sep. 13. The fear is that the Bears choose not to go that route now, only to realize a month or two down the line that it needs to be done, thereby wasting a large chunk of the season.
Stay tuned, Bears fans. Suddenly the biggest story from Bourbonnais is no longer the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection. It’s what will the Bears defense do if its leader is nearing the end of his road?