This is my first go at the Bleacher Report, I guess I could have picked a happy story, but this is what's on my mind right now.
My first recollection of a great player declining before my very eyes was the hero of my teens, the great Dick Butkus. Butkus' knees were gone by the early '70s and he played on until he could hardly walk. There is a particular NFL film clip of him pointing out players exacting revenge on a gimpy Butkus who terrorized the entire league in his prime. It's really sad to watch.
Since then, we can recall any number of great athletes (save Barry Bonds' better living through chemicals) whose skills deteriorated before our eyes, leaving their teams in various dilemmas. Honor them as long as they want to play or move them out—either way, it always seems ugly.
In Chicago we are seeing Brian Urlacher's play deteriorate before our eyes. He spoke out in a Chicago Tribune article yesterday, essentially saying what we see is not what is real.
Hogwash. Urlacher wants us to believe it's the scheme. Brian, it is the scheme all right...the offensive scheme that coordinators know well. Run right at him. He can't play at the point of attack.
To be fair, he was never a great "point of attack" linebacker. Anyone who watched the Bears lose to the Texans last Sunday could clearly see Urlacher consumed by offensive linemen on every running play.
Granted I'm watching on TV, but I counted one tackle (on the sideline) the entire game. He literally took himself out of running plays. Football is not rocket science...really, it isn't.
If you are overwhelmed at the point of attack by blocker or blockers, go down and create a pile. In other words, plug the gap.
That has always been "Plan B" defense in stopping the run. Urlacher won't do that, much less defeat a block head on. Sunday, Urlacher looked like he was auditioning for Dancing with the Stars and he for sure wasn't leading.
Urlacher supporters typically blame Lovie Smith's cover-two, defensive coordinator Bob Babich's A-gap fake blitzes, or hidden injuries, and there is at least some credence to all.
Urlacher has been the face of the Bears organization since he was drafted, but his face hasn't seen much action lately. Bear watchers have suggested for years that Urlacher should be moved to the outside to take advantage of his skill set which is speed and pursuit. Frankly, from what I see now, it's too late for that.
Anyone who follows the Bears knows Urlacher is a great teammate. Despite some off the field issues over the years, he's well supported in the locker room. Unfortunately this is a prescription for hanging on too long.
Hopefully for the Bears, they see what is clear and have a succession plan in place. Regardless, I have a feeling Urlacher's departure, whenever it is, will be ugly. I truly hope I'm wrong.