Brian Urlacher Shouldn't Retire, but the Bears Need to Manage His Playing Time
"God, Urlacher looks slow, doesn't he?"
That was a pretty constant refrain during the Bears game on Twitter. It's hard to tell these things watching a live TV broadcast because they don't stop and replay a player who doesn't make a play or isn't involved in one.
A lot of folks were saying Urlacher was done, though, and that he should hang the cleats up.
Urlacher seemed slow, he was often trailing the play and he missed three tackles—way out of character for the veteran linebacker.
Not really sure if I was seeing what I was seeing, I waited for the All-22 tape to come out on Wednesday and, combined with the broadcast footage, came to a few conclusions.
First of all, he is not ready to hang his cleats up and he shouldn't.
The second is that the Bears need to put Urlacher on a snap count to get the most out of him.
For the first half of the game, Urlacher looked fine. Not as good as he has in the past, but pretty good for a guy just about a month removed from surgery.
The longer the game went, the slower he got and the more tired he looked. It was the second half where he missed tackles most and just flat out wasn't around the ball as much. It was the second half where he "tackled" Witten, which is just fancy talk for running into Witten, as the tight end ran out of bounds and bounced off him (if you have Game Rewind, watch the play in the third quarter with 2:50 left in the period because still shots don't do it justice).
Brian Urlacher is not the same player he once was, but I wouldn't tell him to retire, and while I think he rushed back from injury, he knows his body far better than I do.
He's playing now, so the Bears have to maximize what he can do, which is run the defense. Half of football is a chess match, and Urlacher has the veteran know-how and savvy to maneuver the Bears' fearsome defense to greatest effect.
If he's gassed at the end of the game, you aren't getting the most out of him when you might need it.
Feature Urlacher heavy early on to set the tempo on the field. Continue to use him through the middle of the game, but sub him frequently. Then use him heavily on the back end when much of the defense is getting tired and the game is on the line.
As much as it seems strange to have Urlacher on the field only half the time—because on some level, he is the Bears' defense—once you get past the shock, it's not really a downgrade from a talent standpoint, and there are several benefits.
First of all, the other linebackers—Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes—are a very talented group and while Roach (who at one point was going to take over for Urlacher while he healed) doesn't have Urlacher's experience, getting him more time will give him that.
Couple that with some more on-the-job training by Urlacher, and the Bears would be setting themselves up for the future as well as getting the most from the players at present.
Urlacher does rush the passer, but he's been dropping into coverage a ton (most of Monday he was shadowing Witten), though he has been doing so with mixed results. Replacing him either with a pulled-in safety or a linebacker who is more nimble in coverage would have helped cut down on the shorter passes Witten caught, especially early on.
The defensive front, with veterans like Hayes, Briggs, Peppers, as well as young talent such as Shea McClellin and Henry Melton, has the talent to continue its style of play just as effectively with a part-time Urlacher as they do now.
Perhaps even better since they'd have him at full speed when it counted and not when he'd be fatigued.
Urlacher shouldn't retire because he clearly has something left in the tank and also has a ton to teach the new players on defense.
However, he and the Bears need to realize that at this point in his career and coming off knee surgery, he is more effective in bursts.
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