The state of Brian Urlacher now, a month from now, a year from now is the dominant story line through the Bears right now. It shouldnt be.
If it is inside the locker room, the Bears can probably forget the playoffs. Talking with Danny Mac and Ben Finfer (filling in for Matt Spiegel on Thursday) on The McNeil and Spiegel Show on WSCR-AM 670 at our weekly 10 a.m. slot, that conclusion suggested itself.
At some point, whether now or sometime over the offseason, its very possible that Urlacher will be done as a Bear. But that will be more a matter of economics what 54 thinks his value is vs. what the Bears believe it is than ability shortfall. And obviously whether or not Lovie Smith is back or a new coach is insistent on keeping that part of the defensive core.
As I said to the guys, its a mistake to measure Urlacher on a curve, what he was in times when he was an annual part of the debate over defensive player of the year vs. what he is now.
Right now he is just a very good linebacker. He leads the Bears in tackles. Teams that let leading tacklers (or for that matter, players at any position) walk either have a clear succession plan they want to implement (e.g., Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre in Green Bay) or making a money decision.
Nick Roach is part of the future and Lovie Smith told me on more than one occasion that Roach fits the template for middle linebackers in his defensive scheme. But are the Bears better with Roach at strong side and Urlacher in the middle, or Roach in the middle and Geno Hayes at strong side? Easy call.
At the right price.
All of this presupposes Urlacher healthy enough after his various physical issues (back, knee, hamstring) over the recent past. But a casual thought here is that if Urlacher plays at 10-15 pounds lighter, he gets back some mobility and lightens the load on his legs.
Folks within Halas Hall have told me that the Bears under Lovie Smith will not draft a middle linebacker. Theyll definitely draft speed linebackers, but Smith is of a mind that the scheme that he and Rod Marinelli have run since days with Derrick Brooks in Tampa fares better with runners vs. pluggers. Urlacher was simply a freak who can do both.
If Nick Roach proves what Smith has believed all along that he is a workable middle linebacker the Bears will have a Plan B at the ready, something every team craves. But if Plan A is still at the NFL level, it wont be idly cast aside.