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Optimistic Lance Briggs wants to retire in Bears uniform

Updated: July 29, 2014 6:51PM



BOURBONNAIS — Never known as a workout warrior, Lance Briggs is stepping up his weight-room routine this season.

‘‘When I was younger, I would work out three days, take a day off; work out four, take a day off; work out one day, take a day off,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘Now it’s five days. I’m consistently hitting two-a-days through camp.’’

The intensified regimen is a concession to age and reality. At 33, with 11 seasons with the Bears taking a toll, Briggs is determined to return with a bang. He’s happy to be a mentor to Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and other young linebackers, but he doesn’t want to become a linebacker emeritus. He doesn’t want to be a complementary part of a rebuilt machine; he wants to be Lance Briggs.

‘‘I want to be a playmaker in this league,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I love this game. I love being able to play at a high level. I want to excel. There’s no doubt in my mind I can do that. Last year, before I got hurt [with a shoulder injury], I was probably doing better numbers than I have ever. My goal is to do whatever I can to help us win.’’

Briggs made seven consecutive Pro Bowls (2005-11) and had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2012, even though he wasn’t selected. But after the injury last season, he returns as one of several question marks on a defense that plummeted to 30th in the NFL in yards allowed in 2013.

Can Briggs stay healthy? Will he be the player he was? Though he knows he’s closer to the end than the beginning, he’s not thinking about it. Not even close.

‘‘When it happens, it happens,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I don’t feel any different physically than I did the past three or four years.’’

Briggs is in a transitional phase of his career, where he leans on the experience of 11 NFL seasons to make up for a lost step or two.

‘‘He still has the quickness,’’ linebackers coach Reggie Herring said when asked if Briggs still had the speed to be a weak-side linebacker. ‘‘And his experience helps — the knowledge to play certain routes, how to put [himself] in position where other guys don’t.

‘‘Is he older? Yes. Is he as fast as he was when he was 23? Probably not. You’re better off asking this: Is he still effective? Yes. He’s fast enough to play the position. When he’s not, then we’ve got to get him out of there. But right now, he’s older and wiser and can put himself in the right position quicker with less ability.’’

Briggs embraces that transition, preferring the experience over whatever speed he has lost. He had 75 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a sack in seven games before the injury last season.

‘‘I wouldn’t trade [experience] for anything,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I’m a lot smarter now. There are a lot of things I understand. As far as moving around, I’m not really the judge of that; I’ll let the guys around me decide. If I can still run a guy down or play sideline to sideline, that’s all that matters. If I can make plays, that’s all we need.’’

Briggs suffered through the 2013 season with the rest of the defense. The Bears, who ranked fifth in total defense and eighth against the run in 2012, were 30th in total defense and 32nd against the run last season. They allowed 4.7 yards per carry with Briggs and 6.3 without him last season.

‘‘It was terrible,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I don’t watch a lot of film from last year. But the good thing about it is that it’s in the past.’’

Ever the realist, Briggs is guardedly optimistic about how much improvement the Bears can make on defense this season.

‘‘I’m excited,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a good opportunity. We have a lot of talent — Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, [Jeremiah] Ratliff, Peanut [Charles Tillman], Ryan Mundy, D.J. Williams — a ton of talented guys out there. I’m excited about them. I’m excited about how hard everybody is working. I’m excited to see what we’re made of.’’

Briggs has a lot at stake this season. He’s in the final year of a six-year, $36 million contract he signed in 2008 that was extended by one year with $8.25 million added in 2012. But he insisted he’s not thinking about a new deal.

‘‘The only thing I’m motivated by right now is to play football,’’ he said. ‘‘Contract stuff? I’m not even thinking about it, honestly.’’

Briggs does know one thing, though: He wants to retire with Bears, just like Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus did.

‘‘Absolutely,’’ he said. ‘‘It means the world to me. I could never retire anything else but a Bear. I’m a Bear, you know? Chicago . . . it’s kind of like football to me. When I was a little kid, I started playing football and fell in love with it. It’s my first love.

‘‘And my years in Chicago, whether it was happy times or tough times, I’ve fallen in love with the city. I fell in love with being a Bear and everything that means. That’s what it means to me. Playing next to Brian [Urlacher], playing in that defense, going to the Super Bowl. Whatever it is, I’ve loved every moment of it.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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