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Brian Urlacher is close to being himself again

Brian Urlacher said he has no pahis left knee which forced him miss almost all camp. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Brian Urlacher said he has no pain in his left knee, which forced him to miss almost all of camp. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 30, 2012 6:10AM



Brian Urlacher hasn’t missed a regular-season game, as he promised. Now it’s time for him to be Brian Urlacher again.

‘‘Preseason just ended for me. That’s the way I look at it,’’ the Bears’ eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker said Friday at Halas Hall. ‘‘I didn’t play the whole preseason, and now I feel like I’ve got a little bit of game shape and can run a little better.’’

After missing virtually the entire offseason program, training camp and preseason while recovering from sprained ligaments in his left knee suffered in Week 17 last season, Urlacher started slowly in the regular-season opener against the Colts, recording two tackles in a little more than half the game.

His numbers improved in the next two games — he had 11 tackles against the Packers and eight against the Rams — but he has yet to show the lateral quickness, change-of-direction speed and playmaking ability that has made him one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL for the last decade.

‘‘We know what kind of player he is — the guy that can take a game over,’’ Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ‘‘Just his presence on the field — checks, calls, leadership. But now you can see him getting better and better every week. He’s a special guy to this defense.’’

Since playing the first two regular-season games in a four-day span, Urlacher had 10 days before the Rams game last week. He’ll get an extra day before the game against the Cowboys on Monday night in Dallas.

Urlacher did not practice Friday, but coach Lovie Smith said he will practice Saturday. The Bears — and Urlacher — are expecting the combination of rest and practice to allow him to return to his Pro Bowl form.

‘‘Game by game, he’s progressing every week,’’ Marinelli said. ‘‘That’s part of our game — just practicing, repetition and week by week.’’

That the Bears have not needed Urlacher at that level is a credit to improved play from supporting-cast members such as Tim Jennings (four interceptions), Shea McClellin (two sacks), Israel Idonije (21/2 sacks) and Stephen Paea (four pressures). The Bears are second in the NFL in points allowed (36) and sixth in total defense (279 yards per game).

“Every position, Tim [Jennings], Charles [Tillman], the safeties are playing good,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘There’s not just three or four guys or even one or two like there has been in the past here. There are a lot of guys out there making plays.

‘‘Us guys who you just mentioned [the core] aren’t making a lot of plays right now. But those other guys are. It’s a good situation to be in.’’

Eventually, though, they might need vintage Urlacher to sustain their momentum. Urlacher believes he’s headed in that direction.

‘‘I don’t have any pain,’’ he said. ‘‘The more I play, the better I’ll get.’’



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