Bears LB Brian Urlacher practices, seems ready to play in opener against Colts
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org September 3, 2012 9:16PM
FILE - This July 27, 2012 file photo shows Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher wiping his face as he watches teammates practice during NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Urlacher's nagging knee injury cast a cloud over a team that's aiming high after an offseason makeover. The Bears believe they have the talent and depth to make a big run after being derailed by injuries last year, but losing the eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker would be a huge blow. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:20AM
During practice Monday, Bears defensive end Israel Idonije glanced backward and welcomed a teammate he hadn’t seen behind him for more than a month.
“It’s great to have him back there,” Idonije said. “He’s the quarterback of our defense, the leader. So it’s just great to have him back there and be able to laugh in the huddle with him and just get back into the swing of things.”
For the first time since July 31, linebacker Brian Urlacher practiced, and he completed the two-hour session without incident. During the brief portion of practice reporters are allowed to watch, Urlacher had no trouble changing directions during a drill in which players follow the ball.
Urlacher was in on all the snaps with the starting defense, and he walked off the field in good spirits, with a smile, alongside reserve linebacker Blake Costanzo.
He declined comment, but a teammate playfully said, ‘‘He’s back,” as they headed toward the locker-room entrance.
“He had a good first day back,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s got to get in shape; I’m sure he’ll tell you that and a few other things like that.
“Didn’t have any trouble with him today, so he’s back on schedule.”
The most famous left knee in Chicago seemed to hold up fine, at least for one day. The players are off Tuesday — although players who aren’t 100 percent sometimes visit with trainers — then they return to practice Wednesday, when they begin in earnest their preparation for the opener Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Players came off the field sweating heavily, even though they didn’t wear pads. Urlacher, who underwent a knee scope Aug. 14, completed everything the coaches and trainers expected.
“He did everything we asked him to do,” Smith said. “You forgot that he’s been out. We’ve seen No. 54. When we’re playing, 54’s out there for so long, so today was just back to the normal routine as much as anything.”
Added cornerback Charles Tillman, “Just his presence helps. He’s been here so long, you do miss him when he’s not out there.”
Nick Roach, who has been manning Urlacher’s spot in the middle, also embraced the return of the eight-time Pro Bowl player.
“He’s clearly one of our captains, one of our big-time players, so just to have him back on the field, knowing he’s ready to go, is big,” Roach said. “We’re still a long ways away from Sunday. But just to have him back is definitely a positive.”
Roach downplayed shifting back to his normal spot, strong-side linebacker, after filling in for Urlacher for a little more than a month.
“We’re all interchangeable,” Roach said.
Except it’s not that easy.
Urlacher has been a key part of the Bears’ defense, serving as the clear-cut leader but also as one of the unit’s most consistent playmakers.
In addition to 227 tackles the last two seasons, Urlacher also had four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 17 passes broken up.
“He’s a huge part of this team,” Tillman said. “It means a lot chemistry-wise. A guy who’s the anchor of the defense, you always want him to be out there. So from that standpoint, it is important.”
Urlacher and Smith have consistently maintained that he would play in the season opener. Urlacher, in an interview with Fox-32 Sunday night, insisted that playing against the Colts was “a done deal.” He did, however, acknowledge that his knee will “never be the same.”
“There are going to be some restrictions on what I can do because they don’t want to overwork me too early,” Urlacher said. “It’s a long season. There will be some restrictions, but there won’t be restrictions in the game on Sunday.”
There’s no telling how Urlacher’s knee will respond or if he’ll suffer another setback sooner or later in the season.
But on Monday, the focus was on the present.
“He looked great,” Idonije said. “He was running around, making plays.”
Added Roach, “He’s back in the flow.”