You won't find many Bears writers or bloggers around who've been as critical of Brian Urlacher. While celebrating his remarkable, sideline-to-sideline athletic ability and impeccable huddle command I have also questioned his ability to shed blocks since Ted Washington and Ketih Traylor were exiled by a defensive regime change and wondered publicly if Urlacher possessed the intimidation factor that has defined the great middle linebackers in Chicago and across the NFL. (I also routinely questioned Urlacher's Hall of Fame credentials for years - a position on which I've since reluctantly reversed course.)
This off-season Phil Emery and the Bears hierarchy need Brian Urlacher as much as he needs them. Yes, the captain is suffering from chronic knee issues that are more than likely never going to improve. And yes, even a healthy 54 might only be a shadow of the player who dominated the league in 2005-2006. But Urlacher understands his physical liabilities will prohibit him from breaking the bank on the final contract of his professional career and thus the risks - should one choose to use that word - to the Bears organization will be minimal.
The rewards? Potentially great.
The Bears offense - designed by Marc Trestman and blocked byAaron Kromer - will be reworked and re-imagined. The system and scheme will change. The terminology will change. The players will change. Nothing that took place on the field in 2012, other than the success of Cutler-to-Marshall, will play any role in what takes place on the field in 2013.
The Bears defense, barring surprises over the next few months, may not have a single new starter. Think about it for a moment. The secondary - Tillman, Jennings, Wright & Conte - will be there. The defensive ends will be Peppers and a combination of Wootton, McClellin and maybe a new face or two should Idonije head elsewhere. Henry Melton will be back, either on the franchise tag or with far, far, far heavier pockets. Might Emery bring in a new starter in free agency? Doubtful. Might a draft pick break into the starting lineup? It's possible. But odds are we know the names of the eleven men who'll take the field on defense the first Sunday after Labor Day. The difference. The man who has directed that defense since 2004, Lovie Smith, is gone. Mel Tucker has arrived.
And Mel Tucker needs Brian Urlacher.
The new defensive coordinator needs a defensive signal-caller in the huddle who already has the respect of the ten men around him. He needs a player with Urlacher's intelligence to help translate his own concepts into familiar language/terminology. And perhaps less discussed is the notion that Tucker will face far less scrutiny from the fans and media with Urlacher patrolling the middle of the field. Until #54 retires this will continue to be his defense.
But don't believe it's a one-sided relationship. While Tucker is keeping the Bears in a 4-3 alignment, he is not staunchly sticking with the Tampa-2 concepts. This means that Urlacher's physical requirements each and every Sunday could be significantly less. (No longer might he be needed to cover the deep middle of the field on surefire passing downs.) The less pressure put on Urlacher's knees in 2013, the more likely there will be a 2014 for the superstar. As strange as it is to admit there might be less physical demand on Urlacher in Chicago than many other destinations across the league.
A deal should and will get done in the coming weeks. It is the best thing for Brian Urlacher and the best thing for the Chicago Bears. It will not only make the sixty-one thousand plus of Soldier Field happy come September, it will make the fifty-three on the field more formidable.