1Brian Urlacher sprains the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee when safety Major Wright inadvertently jumps on him as they make a play on an end-zone pass in the 2011 season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.
Updated: September 16, 2012 6:25AM
BOURBONNAIS — After a left knee scope Tuesday morning, linebacker Brian Urlacher and the Bears still are targeting the Sept. 9 opener for his return, a timetable that an orthopedic surgeon didn’t rule out — with a disclaimer.
“It’s certainly possible that you may see him back in two to three weeks,” said Ralph Gambardella, an orthopedic surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, where he’s a consultant with the Los Angeles Dodgers and USC. “But it might take longer because you’ll have the same issue if he goes back and it swells again.
“Then the surgery didn’t work.”
Bears doctors Gordon Nuber and Mark Bowen performed an arthroscopic debridement procedure on Urlacher’s left knee. Coach Lovie Smith said the procedure went smoothly and that “we’re right on schedule,” maintaining that Urlacher would be ready to play against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.
“Brian had talked about definitely being ready for the regular season,” Smith said. “We, of course, think that, and we’ll just see how it goes from here.”
So what went wrong?
The procedure is a fairly standard one, and Gambardella said the Bears and Urlacher were wise to be proactive because they were having trouble managing the swelling.
An average person might need two or three months to fully recover, Gambardella said, but athletes can return in weeks because of the hyper-focused efforts of trainers and doctors.
Meanwhile, Gambardella insisted that Urlacher being 34 isn’t a factor in this particular injury.
“Absolutely not,” Gambardella said. “The joint wears out, but that’s much later.”
Urlacher, of course, isn’t his patient, so Gambardella isn’t privy to his medical records. But he noted that the surface of the knee might have suffered damage in the 2011 season finale — when Urlacher injured his posterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament after safety Major Wright crashed into him — that an MRI might not have picked up.
An MRI can detect about 90 percent of ligament tears but only 50-75 percent of damage to the surface of the joint.
“It’s not that something was missed,” Gambardella said. “But people think MRI scans are 100 percent accurate, and it’s not true.
“The MRI under-reads damage to the joint surface. He was doing well, but when he went to ramp it up — heavy running, jumping, squatting — the knee told him something wasn’t quite right.”
Removing the debris should address the problems with swelling, Gambardella said.
During the 2010 preseason, Bears linebacker Nick Roach underwent a scope on his left knee on Aug. 24. Two and a half weeks later, Roach played in the Sept. 12 season opener against the Detroit Lions.
“I had some loose cartilage moved around, and I was good to go after that,” Roach said Tuesday. “It took a couple of weeks for me. It’s been good ever since.’’
Asked if he had any concern Urlacher would miss more than a couple of weeks, Roach said, “No, I don’t have any fear of that at all.’’
Urlacher wasn’t available for comment, but he said Sunday that he hates sitting out.
After surgery, Urlacher rejoined his teammates at Olivet Nazarene University.
Meanwhile, as the Bears close training camp and prepare for their second preseason game Saturday against the Washington Redskins, the veterans are trying not to overhype the situation.
“He’s a competitor, and in his heart, he wants to be out on the field, playing with the rest of us,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “It tears at him that he can’t do that right now.
“But it’s a long season — a very long season — and we have 16 games to get into the playoffs in order to get ourselves into a position to play in the Super Bowl and win the thing. That’s what we have to keep in perspective, what’s most important.”
Cornerback Charles Tillman got annoyed with the heavy line of Urlacher-related questioning as he left the cafeteria.
“I don’t know, man,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘The dude is going to be there. I said it like 32 times, but I’ll say it 33 times: He’s going to be there. The dude is going to be cool. There is no concern. The dude is going to be cool — quote me.
“What did he tell you? Did he tell you he’s going to be good? What did coach Smith tell you all? Smith said he’s going to be good. The man said he’s going to be good, right? So he’s going to be good.’’
In Urlacher’s absence, Roach has filled in at middle linebacker, and Geno Hayes has started at strong-side linebacker.
“Roach is doing a great job,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said, “but it’s Brian Urlacher, so we’re definitely going to miss him.”
The decision to add Hayes during the offseason has turned into a timely move. Hayes, who played in a similar defense while he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, already has endeared himself to coaches and teammates.
“He comes from the system,’’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, ‘‘and he understands it. But in coverage, he can really break on the ball. He’s a good coverage guy. He’s very athletic, and the guy will hit.”