In an off-season filled with more questions than answers about the health of Brian Urlacher's right knee we finally got a definitive answer from the man himself. "I'm playing Sunday. That's a done deal." Urlacher told reporters on Monday after his first practice in almost a month. The matter of fact statement may have surprised some who have been anxious to know how Urlacher's knee would hold up after having it scoped when he felt continued discomfort almost eight months after spraining his MCL. Urlacher missed the majority of training camp and all of the preseason, yet he had stated at the very beginning that he would be on the field September 9th when the games counted. Everything out of his first practice seemed positive. Coach Lovie Smith, along with fellow teammates praised Brian's work ethic and that he showed no rust in his return. He participated in most of the drills and showed no noticeable discomfort when putting pressure on his left knee. It sounds almost too good to be true and it may be.
How is a knee that hadn't fully recovered after eight months, required multiple scopes and a rumored trip to Europe for a non-FDA approved procedure all of a sudden healed after another scope and a few weeks of no practice? This is the same knee that kept Urlacher out of the entire off-season training program and team minicamp. Is it just a case of R&R that does a body good or is Urlacher trying to prove his doubters wrong and even though his knee might not completely pain free, play through the pain and make good on his promise to be ready for the season opener? And if he isn't fully ready to play 100% should the Bears give him the "Stephen Strasburg” treatment and shut him down after he reaches a certain number of plays? All these questions linger going into Sunday's season opener against the Indianapolis Colts and it is a major headline that will carry into Sunday's game. So should Urlacher play on Sunday or should he rest? I have an argument for both.
WHY URLACHER SHOULD PLAY
He Wants To
Urlacher is a fierce competitor and the quarterback of the Bears defense. He calls audibles and adjusts the defense according to what he sees the opposing offense trying to run as a play. Sitting out would kill Urlacher. He wants to be on the field with his teammates and prove that even for 34; he hasn't lost a step in his game. He should also play because he needs to see the condition that his knee is in and whether or not it can handle 60 minutes of full contact football. His ability to run sideline to sideline and chase down opponents is what makes him such a fun player to watch and a hybrid at the middle linebacker position.
The Bears' Record Without Him
Another reason why Urlacher should play is because the Bears' record without him is terrible. The Bears hold a 7-15 record when #54 isn't on the field. Teammates and coaches know how crucial Urlacher is to what the Bears do on defense and when he isn't there, opposing offenses feast on the Bears' defense. Nick Roach is a solid backup but he is not the caliber of player that Brian is. Roach won't be as vocal or make adjustments as Urlacher would and this may catch the defense off guard and not account for what opposing offenses might be calling at the line of scrimmage.
Motivate The Team
If you've ever seen a Bears game since Urlacher has been with the team you know that he is a kid in a candy store on game days. Urlacher can be seen on the field and on the sidelines motivating his teammates, celebrating when they make big plays, making adjustments and being a motivator when the team needs a boost. He never throws individual players under the bus. He refers to "we" or "as a team" when talking about bad plays or losses. He may be disappointed but he won't publicly disparage a teammate no matter how costly a mistake it may be. These are qualities that make Brian a great teammate. He is beloved by fans and players alike and the team seems to play better when #54 is suited up next to them.
WHY URLACHER SHOULDN'T PLAY
He's May Not Be 100%
While he claims he is playing on Sunday and the knee feels much better that doesn't necessarily mean all is healed. Brian admits that while he participated in the majority of team drills in Monday's practice he still took it slow and admitted there were still some restrictions of what he could do physically. Urlacher also admitted on Sunday's Final Word program that his knee "isn't the same anymore and will never be the same," whether it’s due to the injury still lingering or just old age is unknown, but this admission did set off alarms when he admitted it. It is also known that Urlacher will don a knee brace when he plays to stabilize the knee during games. While the coaching staff would never endanger the health of one of their star players and the training staff will do all the proper tests on the knee before Urlacher is cleared to play in Sunday's game it doesn't mean that just because he is cleared to play that he is completely recovered. It will take the full speed of a game to know for sure just how 100% Brian's knee is.
The Schedule Allows For Extended Rest
As much as Brian wants to play in the season opener against the Colts he may be better suited to sit this one out. The Bears should beat the Indianapolis Colts with or without Brian on the field and that would allow for extended time to rest the knee. The Bears' schedule in the first six weeks is quite favorable to the Bears so that if necessary, they can hold Brian out until their biggest games of the season, when they need him most. Rather than play him against the Colts, why not save him for the quick turnaround game against the Packers? With only three days separating Sunday's game against the Colts and the Thursday night match-up against the rival Packers on national television doesn't it make more sense to have him play as fresh as possible in a game against your biggest rival in a division game that will help determine the winner of the NFC North at the end of the season?
After the big game against the Packers the Bears could give Urlacher an extended rest if necessary by holding him out of their Week 3 game against the St. Louis Rams, another team they could beat even if Caleb Hanie was still starting in place of Cutler. In Week 4 Brian comes back and plays in the Monday Night Football showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. After that, Brian can get a two week rest during the season when the Bears take on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and then during the Bears' bye week. Urlacher returns to the field in Week 7 in a gigantic Monday Night Football match up against NFC North rivals, the Detroit Lions. With this formula the Bears not only have Urlacher when they need him most, but the schedule is so favorable that they should be able to win the three games he sits out easily. Not only does this give Brian a chance to test his knee, but should any complications arise, he can have extended periods of rest. This may be the best argument I can think of for Urlacher to skip Week 1 and focus on Week 2.
God forbid he re-injures his knee in a Colts game that should be a cake walk and is unavailable for the Packers game, or worse, the whole season. Injuries are unpredictable and sitting him for any period of time may be useless from preventing an injury, but it can't hurt to have him as healthy as can be when the most important games appear on the schedule.
So what side of the argument are you on? Would you rather see #54 on the field Sunday or held out for the bigger games on the schedule? Do you think he's fully healthy? What's the best method for the Bears to take with Brian's knee? Voice your opinion in the comments section.
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