No, I have not subconsciously tricked myself into thinking that Brian Urlacher retired.
I know he had a great season last year, picking up 125 combined tackles and four sacks.
When he's on the field, he makes the Chicago Bears' defense significantly better. When he's on the field, he also just happens to be one of the best middle linebackers, if not the best in the NFL.
When he's on the field.
Here's where I may be asking for a butt-whooping from Brian Urlacher: Can we really count on him to be on the field for very long before succumbing to yet another injury?
Anyone who has followed his career can attest to the fact that Urlacher has had his share of injuries, ranging from an arthritic back to a serious wrist injury.
Unfortunately, when he wasn't on the field, the Bears' defense was, at best, below average. Not to touch a nerve, but I'll just say remember the Bengals game and leave it at that.
Plus, Urlacher is entering his 12th season in the NFL. In middle linebacker years, I would say he has no more than three years left in him.
Maybe instead of being at the mercy of Brian Urlacher's health, the Chicago Bears should draft a middle linebacker as an emergency backup—perhaps they might find the heir to the legendary Monsters of the Midway throne once held by Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
Now, I wouldn't have even thought about writing this post if I didn't believe there might be a middle linebacker in this draft who met the following requirements: Worthiness of the aforementioned Monsters of the Midway linebacker status and availability in the later stages of the first round.
In this draft, there is a player who could meet both requirements. Like Butkus, he is also a University of Illinois alum: Martez Wilson.
Wilson, who recorded 111 tackles and four sacks for the Fighting Illini last year, was dubbed the No. 1 inside linebacker draft prospect by NFL Network's Mike Mayock. Like Urlacher, Wilson has the ability, at least in terms of speed, to play in Lovie Smith's "Tampa 2" defense.
Wilson posted the fastest official time among all linebackers at today's NFL Scouting Combine in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.49. This is even a step faster than Urlacher's time of 4.57 back in 2000, and proves that like Urlacher, Wilson possesses the safety-like speed to cover a huge portion of the football field.
Martez Wilson also proved that he has the strength to get off a block, as evidenced by his No. 9 ranking among linebackers in the bench press with 23 reps.
Granted, despite these numbers and his performance at the combine, you may still have two questions about Martez Wilson.
First of all you might wonder, if Wilson is this good, how could he possibly drop down to the No. 30 pick in the draft. Secondly, why is this guy writing about replacing Brian Urlacher when the subject of his retirement hasn't even been brought up yet and the Bears have more pressing draft needs?
Valid points, and to answer both questions allow me to refer to the 2005 NFL Draft, when the Green Bay Packers had Brett Favre and a late first-round pick.
University of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers was expected to be picked before the Packers even went on the clock, but he wasn't. So, even though Green Bay had more pressing needs on defense, they chose Rodgers as Favre's future replacement.
While Wilson may be a highly-touted linebacker, Von Miller of Texas A&M is the most sought-after linebacker in the draft. Plus, with the likes of Marcell Dareus (Alabama) and Nick Fairley (Auburn) available in a very-deep defensive lineman class, teams picking before the Bears may pass up Wilson to fill their defensive needs with higher-regarded prospects.
To answer the second question, no rumors swirled regarding Favre when the Packers selected Rodgers. And unlike Urlacher, Favre didn't have any injury history (at least, obviously nothing serious enough to make him miss a start).
Like Favre, Urlacher has been the face of his franchise. But sometimes in the NFL, you need to make cold-blooded decisions now in order to put in place what's best for the future.
And as Green Bay showed this season, such cold-blooded decisions can be handsomely rewarded in the long run.
Check out Drew Rosten's Sports Thread at http://drewrosten.blogspot.com for continuing coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine.