Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
At a joint training-camp practice in 2003 in Macomb, Ill., St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was annoyed by one of the Bears’ rookie defenders.
Linebacker Lance Briggs, a third-round pick out of Arizona, played at a playoff pace and ignored the concept of thudding, hitting high without taking an offensive player to the ground.
“He was just running around wild and crazy, hitting everything, just happy to be in the NFL,” said Faulk, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “I said, ‘Buddy, you got to slow down.’ ”
Briggs, a Pro Bowl selection for the sixth consecutive season, has developed into one of the NFL’s best outside linebackers, and he has asserted himself as one of the keys to the Bears’ defense.
The Bears were 0-2 when Briggs was out or didn’t play much. He was out against the Seattle Seahawks and only appeared briefly against the Washington Redskins because of an ankle injury.
On Monday, Briggs downplayed his absence from the 23-20 loss Oct. 17 to the Seahawks at Soldier Field.
Asked if he would’ve made a difference, Briggs diplomatically said, “Not really. Not the way that game turned out. Obviously, I wanted to play in that game, but Brian Iwuh played great. He did a great job that game and in the Redskins game.”
Iwuh had a team-high 10 tackles. But racking up tackles is a given at weak-side linebacker in the Bears’ defense. It’s the impact plays that make Briggs special, the tackles for loss (seven), forced fumbles (two), sacks (two), interceptions (two) and passes defended (seven).
“You can’t even really say because he didn’t play,” linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said when asked if Briggs would’ve changed the outcome of the first meeting against the Seahawks. “But you know if he would have, it would have been a different outcome, at least defensively, because you can count on Lance Briggs for a couple of game-changing plays.
“That’s what we missed.”
It was one of the Bears’ worst defensive performances, and it came against an offense that finished 2010 ranked 28th. The Bears gave up 353 yards, didn’t generate a turnover and didn’t sack quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
“It’s frustrating anytime you can’t apply the pressure that you want to,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “But we got another shot at [Hasselbeck], and hopefully this time we’ll do a better job.”
Having Briggs will help, Peppers said.
“It’ll be big to get him back,” Peppers said. “Missing Lance was big for us.
‘‘Having him back in there will settle the rotation, and it’s going to be huge for us.”
Briggs is often overshadowed by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
He doesn’t begrudge that fact, praising Urlacher whenever given the opportunity.
Faulk, though, likened Briggs to other talented players who played alongside even more heralded teammates in the same unit.
“Unfortunately, it’s kind of like being like John Stallworth or John Taylor,” Faulk said. “You never get the credit you deserve. But when you look at what Lance has done, I think he’s just as important as Urlacher in that defense.
“If you talk to some of the offensive coordinators, when they game- plan, they game-plan for that joker [Briggs],” Faulk said. “He’s a force. He’s disruptive.”
As the Bears prepare for the divisional playoff game against the Seahawks, Briggs said he’s looking forward to getting his “first crack at them,” especially because his ankle isn’t an issue anymore.
“I feel great,” he said. “No complaints. Full go. Nothing holding me back.”
Now 30, Briggs fondly recalled Faulk’s anecdote when he was a rookie and the Bears headed to Macomb, where the Rams used to hold training camp.
Faulk is one of a kind.
“When I was young, that’s all I knew how to do,” Briggs said of Faulk’s beef that the young player was overzealous in those practice sessions.
“I had to go out and make statements and earn my way.”
But Briggs admitted that Faulk got the better of him on more than one occasion.
“He ran one route, and it’s like he ran circles around me, and I looked at my coach, and he was like, ‘Yeah, we haven’t taught you that route,’ ” Briggs said. “But it’s always good to learn from veterans, especially ones as legendary as Marshall Faulk.”
Briggs watched with great interest Saturday as the Seahawks outmaneuvered the defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints.
“They used him a ton,” Briggs said of tight end John Carlson, who scored two touchdowns. “Fall-down plays, plays across the field, deception, a lot of hitches.”
But Briggs expressed confidence that his defense won’t be so easily fooled.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This week, I can’t think of a better opponent to play because it’s them.
“The Saints did some different things [five-man fronts]. We’re going to do us.”
And that’s only possible, when Briggs is a part of the lineup.