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On draft day 2000, coach Dick Jauron stepped to the podium in the Halas Hall auditorium and said that Brian Urlacher, selected by the Bears some minutes earlier, was as of that moment the Bears’ starting strong-side linebacker.
A job awarded, not won, and it was, by one coach’s subsequent admission, “a mistake.”
[Related: Bears, Urlacher part ways]
Urlacher was a 250-pound free safety at New Mexico. He’d won the defensive MVP in the 2000 Senior Bowl playing at middle linebacker--a position he’d never played before. Indeed, Bears personnel staffers confirmed that the team was considering drafting him as a safety, given his skill set.
But the Bears had Tony Parrish in place at strong safety and had drafted Mike Brown in the 2000 second round, and Brown was an instant hit at free safety.
MLB? Not at first
The problem with middle linebacker, however, apart from Barry Minter being a serviceable MLB at the time, was that the position was considered more than a rookie, with no real experience there, could handle.
Jauron and his staff saw Urlacher as their eventual middle linebacker and as one of their 11 best on defense, so the question was how to get him on the field. The decision was made to line him up at the strong-side linebacker spot, thought to be simpler in terms of assignments, and Urlacher would effectively take opposing tight ends out of offenses because of his refined coverage abilities.
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Two issues with that, however: The job had belonged to Rosevelt Colvin, one of two (Warrick Holdman) starting linebackers obtained in the 1999 fourth round.
More importantlu, Urlacher couldn’t play the position. He was superb in space but far less skilled at taking on blocks at the snap and the line of scrimmage. Coordinator Greg Blache was on the rookie, hard.
“When I was a rookie, he took me under his wing, showed me how to do things, just great,” Urlacher told CSNChicago.com. “He was [jerk] to me at first, on my ass all the time, had to let everybody know I wasn’t his favorite.
Urlacher struggled mightily and after starting three preseason games, he was benched. Colvin returned to the job.
[RELATED: Could the Bears find Urlacher's replacement in the 2013 NFL Draft?]
Making the change
Urlacher played special teams and some spot duty in the Bears’ first two games of 2000 as Barry Minter started. But Minter was injured in game two against Tampa Bay, and was replaced by Urlacher.
The effects were startling. Coaches need not have worried about Urlacher mastering a new position. He had at least one sack in each of his first five games, including one of Brett Favre, and he was on his way to honors as defensive rookie of the year and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
“I tell people I’m the reason why he will be in the Hall of Fame,” Colvin joked in a conversation with CSNChicago.com during the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
“If I had not beaten him out, he would have just been some [mediocre] ‘Sam’ linebacker instead of the Hall of Fame middle linebacker he became.”
Minter never started another game in the NFL, was released before the 2001 season and played one game with Cleveland before retiring.
The move worked more for Colvin as well. He led the Bears with 10.5 sacks in 2001 and 2002, after which he signed a six-year, $29 million deal with the New England Patriots when he and the Bears could not come to terms.