Chicago Bears All-Decade Team: 2000s

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Brian Urlacher, MLB

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We often spend time lamenting the quarterback woes of this franchise and bemoaning the notion that we never seem to have an elite-caliber player under center.  Conversely, the team’s linebacker lineage is the stuff of legend and we expect success at the position as if it’s a birthright.  The names come and gone are football gospel; Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, Bill George, Doug Buffone, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and more.

So while we may have very real complaints about what we haven’t had at QB, obviously some sort of cosmic balancing act is underway at the hands of the football Gods because we’ve had an embarrassment of riches at LB.  That tradition continued on April 15, 2000 when Dick Jauron’s Bears drafted Brian Urlacher out of New Mexico with the ninth overall pick.

A jack of all trades while with New Mexico, Urlacher was deployed as a “Lobo Back” in a 3-3-5 defensive alignment during his junior and senior seasons — a safety/linebacker hybrid position that allowed him to roam and make plays all over the field.  Knowing what we know now, there couldn’t have been a better prerequisite for a future starring role in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2.

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Before Lovie, however, Urlacher first played for and flourished under Dick Jauron and defensive coordinator Bob Babich.  In 2000 Urlacher was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year while amassing 125 total tackles (101 solo), eight sacks and two interceptions.  He made his first trip to the Pro Bowl after that rookie year and he would make it four straight by going each of the next three years.

Similar to Urlacher’s New Mexico teams that struggled to win despite the outstanding football he played, the Bears didn’t experience much success in his first five years outside of the overachieving 2001 campaign.  Lovie took over as HC in 2004 but it was 2005 when Urlacher and the defense once again made the league take notice.  Urlacher was named the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year while leading a dominant, turnover-generating defense.

For the 2000s, Urlacher was the face of the franchise.  The team had its ups and downs (81-79 record from 2000-2009), but the one constant was #54 in the middle of the defense.  The team made it’s run to the Super Bowl in 2006 and fell short; aside from that season Urlacher experienced no other playoff success in the decade.  In 2008 the team lost their last game of the season to the Texans in a win-and-your-in scenario and in 2009 Urlacher injured his wrist in the opener, missing the rest of the season.

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Lance Briggs, WLB

Urlacher tended to get the headlines, and deservedly so, but meanwhile Lance Briggs was going to 5 straight Pro Bowls from 2005-2009 (he would go to seven straight thru 2011).  Drafted by the Bears in 2003 with the 68th overall selection, Briggs became a starter in his rookie year and along with Warrick Holdman, flanked Urlacher in the middle.  In 2004, his second NFL season, Briggs was the Bears leading tackler (102) in a year that injury limited Urlacher to nine starts.

Briggs played a key role in the Bears defensive resurgence in 2005-2006 and league-wide recognition followed.  No longer was it just Urlacher on defense for Chicago; in Lance Briggs he had a suitable running mate.  From 2005 thru 2009 Briggs was either the leading tackler on the team, or the second highest to Urlacher (2005 and 2007).

Things weren’t always swell with Briggs and the Bears, however, as a contract dispute in 2007 got a little ugly.  After being slapped with the franchise tag Briggs hit the sports radio circuit and demanded a trade, saying at one point that he had played his last down with the team.  Obviously the sides eventually worked out their differences and Briggs remained a Bear, but these occasional moments of acrimony were part of his career narrative with the Bears.

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Roosevelt Colvin, SLB

Not since Otis Wilson in 1985 did the Bears have a linebacker register double-digit sacks until Roosevelt Colvin in 2001 matched Wilson’s 10.5 from the Super Bowl winning season.  For good measure, Colvin matched that total in 2002.  With guys like Richard Dent, Steve McMichael and Jim Flanigan on the roster thru the 80s and 90s, the Bears largely relied on their defensive line to produce sacks.  Having a linebacker that specialized in getting to the QB was a welcome sight.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Colvin took the first free agent bus out of town and headed to New England in 2003.  It’s impossible to know if things would’ve gone any differently had he stayed in Chicago, but Colvin’s luck took a turn for the worse in New England.  A significant hip injury sidelined him in 2003 and kept him out thru the 2004 season.  The Patriots won the Super Bowl both years.

The Other Guy…

The only other LB that I considered for my all-decade team was Hunter Hillenmeyer, but that decision would’ve been based on longevity more than his impact.  Hillenmeyer, who was on the team from 2003 to 2010, was steady but his job was made easier by the presence of Urlacher and Briggs.  During his eight-year career with the Bears Hillenmeyer accumulated 382 tackles (288 solo), seven sacks, two INTs and six forced fumbles.

Next: All-2000s Secondary