Back to the Future: Urlacher hops in time machine

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Back to the Future: Urlacher hops in time machine

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
4:35 PM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Veterans will tell young players dealing with injuries that the long view is the way to look at those setbacks. "Think of it this way," a Bears veteran once told a rookie offensive lineman who was down about being ticketed for injured reserve with an injury. "You just got a year added onto your career."

The bromide does not just apply to young players. And sometimes it seems to add more than just one year to a career.

Brian Urlacher was lost for the 2009 season less than two full quarters into it when he suffered a fractured wrist in Game 1 last year against the Green Bay Packers. The 11-year veteran was 31 at the time and the immediate question of a fixture at one of the high-impact positions in professional football was whether he could in fact come back at his advanced NFL age.

The questions were proved right. He has not come back to the level he was playing at before the injury.

"Time machine" timeframe

He has, in the eyes of someone studying him very closely, come back better.

"He's got a time machine somewhere because he dialed it back three or four years, and he's playing at a really high level," said Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "I don't know if there's a middle linebacker playing at a higher level in the NFL.

"He's good against the run. He's good against the pass. All those things," Schwartz said. "There's not a whole lot of holes in his game. One-trick ponies, you can take out of the game plan. But Urlacher doesn't have those kind of weaknesses."

The only NFC linebacker playing at Urlacher's level, based on initial Pro Bowl votes at inside linebacker, might be San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis. But Schwartz and the Bears might call for a recount that plays out and Urlacher is not selected for his seventh Pro Bowl.

It would be his first since the 2006 season, meaning Schwartz's time-machine timeframe is just about right.

"I'm sure the year off didn't hurt me any," Urlacher said. "The way coach Lovie Smith structures our practices and training camp and the bye week, it gives us a chance to maintain your health. You're going to get banged up in the season but for the most part, knock on wood, we've been pretty healthy for the most part. The way he does practice lets us maintain that health."

Urlacher is the only member of perhaps the NFL's top defense to have at least one entry in every Bears defensive playmaker category: tackles (89, leads team), tackles for loss (9, leads team), QB pressures (3), sacks (2.5), interception (1), pass breakups (7, second to Charles Tillman), forced fumbles (1) and fumbles recovered (3, leads team).

Julius Peppers is missing just a fumble recovery; Lance Briggs lacks only a quarterback pressure.

"Everybody knows what Brian brings to the table, an incredible player and a key part of this defense," said defensive end Israel Idonije. "He's a leader. When you have your leader and your core back and doing what he does, he's like the quarterback of our defense, so it's big to have him back."

Urlacher is one of the reasons Peppers cites behind the defensive end's desire to play in Chicago.

Reversed aging?

Urlacher has posted double-digit tackle totals in three of the last four games (all Bears wins; coincidence?) and in five of the Bears' 11 games this season. In another indication that the time machine is fully operational and doing some reverse-aging, Urlacher had 10 double-digit games in 2006, seven in 2007 and three in 2008.

Yet not everyone is necessarily surprised by Urlacher's return from the wrist injury, but also ramping back to Super Bowl levels at age 32.

"I'm impressed by him every year," said Briggs, second to Urlacher with 81 tackles. "Injuries are a part of the game. When they happen, you have to bide your time until you're able to come back. Then once you're back, it's for a guy like him, there's no change.

"You just stay hungry. Once you get back out on the field, you get back out and you make plays because you're a playmaker."

Making changes

Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis has maintained his high level of play with the help of yoga. Urlacher told CSNChicago.com that his program is not specifically yoga but it is doing for him what yoga has done for Lewis.

"I've been doing a program that's pilates and yoga and stretching mixed in," Urlacher said. "I've been doing it for three years and my body feels great. It's a lot of core work and a lot of the guys on the team do it, too. When my back was hurting a couple years ago, I tried five, six things trying to feel better and it wasn't working.

"Then I found people who helped make it better. Thirty minutes a day and I feel great. I do it and my hips can move right, my back feels better, I can move again. I'll do it the rest of my life."

The Bears are seeing a lot of that life right now.

"We talked about him in training camp the same way," Lovie Smith said. "When you're Brian Urlacher and you're healthy, No. 1, you have a good chance of good things happening for you. Brian is a heck of a football player, one of the best around. He's played like that from the start of the season to now.

"We need those guys for this push right here. He played outstanding ball this week but we've talked about him; his grades from every game are about the same. He's capable of really taking a game over but that's just a matter of time before that happens."

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: California QB Davis Webb

2017 NFL Draft Profile: California QB Davis Webb

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Davis Webb, QB, California

6'5" | 229 lbs.

2016 stats:

4,295 YDS, 61.6 CMP%, 37 TD, 12 INT, 135.6 QBR

Projection:

Day 3

Scouting Report:

"System quarterback with more than 65 percent of his attempts coming inside of 10 yards. Webb has enough raw talent to be considered a developmental prospect, but his decision-making and accuracy issues beyond 10 yards is a big red flag that might be tough to overcome in the NFL." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Give the NFL credit for, at least this one time, genuinely putting the interests of its fans first. Or at least proposing to.

Among the matters expected to come before this week’s owners meetings in Arizona will be one from Washington that coaches have the ability to make unlimited replay challenges as long as the ones they make are correct. The idea is not likely to pass, in part because the NFL is endeavoring to improve the pace of its games, particularly for fans seated in stadiums, particularly outdoor ones. (If you’re watching at home, replay reviews are enough time to fill the chips bowl and grab a cold one.)

Along that line, the plan is for tablet computers to be run out to game officials for their review and consultation, while the final decision is reached at league officiating headquarters in New York, according to current proposals to be considered for votes this week. Additionally, a 40-second play clock is suggested after extra points when there is no commercial break scheduled, and halftime to be limited to 13 minutes 30 seconds.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

Actual in-game changes are also under consideration.

No one is likely to label it “The McClellin Rule” but a proposal is there to ban players leaping over offensive linemen (read: long snappers) to block field goals and extra points. Former Bears linebacker Shea, as a special-teams rusher with the New England Patriots, successfully vaulted Ravens blockers to knock down a Baltimore field goal try last season.

The proposal is likely to pass ostensibly as a player-safety measure, although cynics might suggest that the impetus behind the ban is general irritation that Bill Belichick’s group came up with with kick-block gambit.

More directly aimed at protecting players from gratuitous violence in a game that has enough violence just by its nature is a move to remind officials that players can be ejected for egregiously illegal hits. The situation is not considered dire because of frequency but the league clearly wants to send a message/reminder to not only officials, but players, something likely to be reinforced during officials’ tours of training camps in August.