Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs are Bears’ one-two punch
SEAN JENSEN ON THE BEARS August 17, 2011 12:14AM
Linebackers coach Bob Babich says Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs ‘‘get along like brothers.’’ | Getty Images
Those picked ahead
A look at the traditional linebackers selected ahead of Lance Briggs in the 2003 NFL draft: *
PLAYER TEAM PICK PRO BOWLS
Nick Barnett Packers 1st (29th) 0
Boss Bailey Lions 2nd (34th) 0
E.J. Henderson Vikings 2nd (40th) 1 (2010)
Pisa Tinoisamoa Rams 2nd (43rd) 0
Kawika Mitchell Chiefs 2nd (47th) 0
Eddie Moore Dolphins 2nd (49th) 0
Terry Pierce Broncos 2nd (51st) 0
Chaun Thompson Browns 2nd (52nd) 0
Victor Hobson Jets 2nd (53rd) 0
Alonzo Jackson Steelers 2nd (59th) 0
Antwan Peak Texans 3rd (67th) 0
LANCE BRIGGS BEARS 3rd (68th) 6
(2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
* Terrell Suggs, the 10th overall selection, is a pass-rushing linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and has been named to the Pro Bowl four times.
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Lance Briggs often is viewed as the Bears’ other linebacker, cast in the mighty shadow of Brian Urlacher, who widely — and justifiably — is considered the face of the franchise.
This is their ninth season together, and Briggs has witnessed all the attention — positive and negative — that comes with the title.
‘‘For everyone who wants to be a star, there’s a price that comes along with it; there’s a huge price,’’ Briggs told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. ‘‘Once it begins, it doesn’t just stop.
‘‘I wouldn’t say I don’t want to be the face of the franchise, but I would say I’m OK with where I am and who I am. I’m at peace.’’
Informed that Briggs doesn’t necessarily want the distinction of being the face of the franchise, Urlacher quickly replied: ‘‘That makes two of us. I didn’t ask for it, either. But luckily, we’ve got Jay [Cutler] and Julius [Peppers] for that now.’’
During the last decade, Halas Hall has been the home of many big-name players at several positions. But Urlacher and Briggs are consistent playmakers for the Bears, and that they play in the same unit naturally elicits comparisons.
That, however, is something neither they nor anyone else at Halas Hall will touch.
‘‘Brian Urlacher is the face of the franchise, and he should be,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘He had an outstanding year [in 2010].
‘‘But when you talk about Lance Briggs, he’s not second fiddle to anyone as an outside linebacker.’’
In fact, Smith said, Briggs proves on multiple fronts how he places team goals before his own.
‘‘If we wanted to make Lance into a blitzing linebacker, where he did that the majority of the time, he’d be one of the all-time greats,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But for him to say, ‘Hey, I’m playing with Brian Urlacher, and this is my role,’ that shows he’s a team guy.’’
Chip on his shoulder
Briggs, though, doesn’t consider himself second to anybody.
‘‘Every day, my confidence is, ‘I am the man at linebacker,’ ’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I know I’m a playmaker; I know I’m a guy who is going to help this team win. But I’d like to think that every linebacker — every player on the field — thinks the same way.
‘‘You may not go out and talk about it and hoot and holler to people about it. But under the surface, you should have that confidence.’’
Briggs wasn’t motivated to surpass Urlacher or any other Bears linebacker. Instead, he’s driven by April 26, 2003. That’s when the NFL draft was held, and Briggs stewed as 11 linebackers — including nine in the second round — were selected ahead of him.
‘‘I was surprised, I was upset, I was pissed off,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘For me, that was a lot of fuel. A lot of fuel.’’
Briggs was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2004 before beginning a run of six consecutive Pro Bowls berths in 2005. The 11 linebackers picked ahead of him have one combined Pro Bowl appearance.
Asked if that still bothers him, Briggs said: ‘‘You know, every year is a proving ground. Continue to be the man that I know that I was back then.’’
Bob Babich has been the Bears’ linebackers coach or defensive coordinator since 2006, and he can’t picture a better fit to man the weak-side linebacker position in the Bears’ system than Briggs.
‘‘We put him in a position to make plays,’’ Babich said, ‘‘and Lance fits that role perfectly.’’
‘‘He’s very underrated, in my book, for all that he does,’’ Urlacher said.
According to Pro Football Focus, Briggs had 173 stops — a combination of sacks, tackles and assisted tackles — in the last
three seasons, trailing only the San Francisco 49ers’ Patrick Willis (178) and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Farrior (176). The website noted, though, that Briggs allows only 7.1 yards per reception, the best among the NFL’s 4-3 outside linebackers.
But even with such glowing statistics and comments from coaches and teammates, Briggs still doesn’t seem to command leaguewide respect.
During the offseason, the NFL Network presented a 10-part series on the top 100 players of 2011. Smith watched — until he noticed Briggs was ranked 92nd, the 10th linebacker on the list.
‘‘One of the biggest injustices I’ve ever seen,’’ Smith said. ‘‘After I saw that, I quit looking because there couldn’t be any type of validity to that at all.
‘‘Are there that many better football players in the NFL than Lance Briggs?’’
Briggs, though, isn’t interested in the trappings of superstardom. He’s recognized throughout Chicago, but he doesn’t want to get the sort of reactions that Urlacher and Cutler do.
‘‘For me, I like the simple things,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I like to go to [the grocery store] and not be bothered.’’
That’s why Briggs passes on most endorsement opportunities that come his way.
‘‘I’m very, very picky, which is why some of the stuff doesn’t work out for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not an Ochocinco guy, and I’m not willing to do Ochocinco or T.O. type of stuff.’’
What matters to Briggs is the respect of his teammates and coaches.
‘‘To me,’’ Briggs said, ‘‘all that matters most to me is you pay a man for his work.’’
His insistence on fair compensation is well-documented, and he’s halfway through a six-year, $36 million contract.
More important at the moment, though, is that Briggs is excited about the 2011 season, especially with he and Urlacher coming off Pro Bowl seasons.
‘‘The best thing is, we have fun,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘We’re very relaxed out there. We have a good time.’’
Urlacher said he admires how outgoing Briggs is.
‘‘I kind of envy that,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘But he rubs off on me.’’
Perhaps too much.
‘‘They get along like brothers,’’ Babich said. ‘‘They have a great time, and they play off each other.’’
On the field, Babich said the two cover one another’s mistakes because they’re so in tune with what the other is thinking. Off the field, they often have the same punch lines.
‘‘When you’re around someone enough, you start to sound alike,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘But we have fun.
‘‘I can’t imagine playing without him.’’
Ultimately, Briggs and Urlacher are united by a common goal.
‘‘We just want our team to win; that’s the one thing we have in common,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘If we play well, our team is probably going to have a good season. That’s what it comes down to.’’