I was thinking about Brian Urlacher this morning as the Bears take their day off before starting preparations for a return engagement with Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. The Bears will prepare for the game without Urlacher, who is expected to miss his first game of the 2012 season. That’s surprising considering where we started with Brian in training camp. Secret European treatments, surgery, etc were common themes throughout July and August. But when it mattered most, Urlacher was on the field against the Colts for the season opener as promised. He’s been on the field, but hasn’t been very effective.
Urlacher was front and center for most the Bears’ defensive collapse against the Seahawks last Sunday. Throughout the game, he looked old and slow. Did he make some plays? Of course. But he also missed a few. He’ll get a slip in his locker this week for the second consecutive game with a horse collar tackle, a sure sign that he’s a step slow in getting to the ball. When it mattered most, in overtime, the Bears assigned a spy to Russell Wilson, who was carving them up with his read-option plays. It wasn’t Urlacher, though; it was rookie defensive end for now Shea McClellin. If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is. It’s also damning that the fastest guy the Bears could find in their front-7 wasn’t a linebacker, it was a defensive end.
It’s become clear to me that these might be the final days of #54 in the Navy and Orange, whose contract expires at the end of the season. It’s not hard for me to see a scenario where Phil Emery decides to turn his attention elsewhere with his free agent spending pool. At 34, Urlacher is clearly nearing the end of his professional football days. To say he’s lost a step would be kind. To say the Bears have been trying to hide the face of the franchise in their defense for much of the season would be more accurate.
The Bears are known for being a Cover-2 team. In that scheme, the middle linebacker’s responsibility is covering the deep middle of the field and charging towards the line of scrimmage on underneath routes. This season, the Bears have been playing a lot of single high safety, meaning Urlacher doesn’t have to try to cover that deep middle. They’ve deviated from their core defensive principle to cover for Urlacher’s lack of recovery speed and range. I’m sure that Lovie would love to get some more speed back in the middle of the field so he can go back to he coveted Cover-2.
If they have to take the Vikings on without Urlacher as expected, Nick Roach will slide over to the middle and Geno Hayes will go over to the Sam linebacker spot. To help shore up the linebacking corp, the Bears signed Dom DiCicco to the 53-man roster. They had reached an injury settlement with DiCicco earlier this season after spending last season on the team, so he’s familiar with the scheme.
Will our last image of Brian Urlacher be of him limping off the field, having pulled himself before the last play of the game? Given his performance this season, will they be better off by moving on? Do you think he could come back to pre-injury form with another offseason of experimental medical procedures? Let’s hear your thoughts on #54 in the Comments.