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Brian Urlacher’s future uncertain, but teammates eager for his return

Linebacker Brian Urlacher celebrates with teammates after scoring an interceptireturn against Titans. | Frederick Breedon~Getty Images

Linebacker Brian Urlacher celebrates with teammates after scoring on an interception return against the Titans. | Frederick Breedon~Getty Images

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Updated: January 31, 2013 6:44AM



Linebacker Nick Roach likes
being the Bears’ man in the middle. He likes the added responsibilities and the added attention.

‘‘I enjoy it,’’ Roach said. ‘‘You get a chance do a lot more in terms of making plays. . . . You don’t have to come off the field.’’

But Roach also said he hopes his time at middle linebacker ends soon.

Why? Because that would mean Brian Urlacher finally would be back.

‘‘We want him back,’’ Roach said. ‘‘You hate to see a guy go down, especially like Brian, in the first place.’’

The Bears always have been confident Urlacher would return after injuring his hamstring Dec. 2. They didn’t put him on injured reserve, opting to waive other players to keep a place for him on their 53-man roster.

The problem is, the Bears must defeat the Detroit Lions on Sunday and pray for the Green Bay Packers to beat the Minnesota Vikings for Urlacher, who officially is listed as doubtful, to have a chance to return. If it doesn’t happen, it’s possible
Urlacher’s time in Chicago will end.

Like coach Lovie Smith, there is uncertainty about Urlacher’s future
with the Bears. Unlike Smith, though, the longtime face of the franchise doesn’t have a year left on his contract.

So there’s even more uncertainty, especially with younger free agents to re-sign and other
areas to address.

It’s widely thought that Smith’s and Urlacher’s fates are intertwined. If general manager Phil Emery gives Smith another chance, Smith’s top lieutenant likely will get the same. But it’s also possible Smith will
return and Urlacher won’t. Emery must decide whether Urlacher’s health and play this season warrant another contract.

Urlacher’s critics will tell you he’s slow and can’t move from sideline to sideline as he once did. They’ll say he’s 34 and injuries have taken their toll.

But his teammates and coaches still talk up his value. He has 88 tackles, seven tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown this season.

‘‘He’s a huge part of the success of our defense,’’ linebacker Lance Briggs said. ‘‘He’s a big leader.’’

The Bears have seen how difficult it has been for Urlacher to miss the final part of their season.

‘‘He never wants to be off the field,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘He always wants to be out there. But when it gets to situations like that, it’s not our call. . . . I know where he wants to be.’’

Urlacher practiced Friday for the first time since injuring his hamstring. It brought an onslaught of questions for Smith, but it also
encouraged his teammates.

‘‘Just seeing him getting back is great,’’ Roach said.



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