Eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher didn’t have a lot of definitive answers about his injured left knee when he finally spoke to the media Sunday afternoon, but he still says he’ll be 100 percent by opening day.
“Sept. 9, I’ll be ready to play for sure,” Urlacher said of the season opener against the Colts. “That’s really all that matters to me. Preseason games and all these practices, I’d love to be out there, but I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy of missing the first game.”
But that appears to be at least a possibility. Urlacher has not practiced since July 31 and does not know when he’ll be back on the practice field. He missed his ninth straight practice Sunday afternoon. He would prefer to be out on the field in a helmet, sweating with his teammates, rather than wearing a floppy fishing hat while standing and watching.
“I hate sitting out,” he said. “I practiced the first four or five days and felt pretty good. Then it got sore and a little swollen, so I’m taking some time off right now.”
The injury originally occurred in last year’s season finale, when Urlacher landed awkwardly and severely sprained two ligaments, the MCL (medial collateral ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). He was not involved in the off-season minicamp or OTA (organized team activity) practices.
But he expressed optimism at the start of training camp that the injury would respond well, and expectations were that an occasional day off would allow him to maintain a fairly regular regimen.
“I felt great coming into training camp,” the 34-year-old, 13-year veteran said. “The brace doesn’t allow me to do a lot of things, but I still ran pretty fast and moved around pretty good.”
But for now, Urlacher finds himself in a holding pattern, although he hopes once the soreness and swelling subside he’ll be able to resume normal activity.
“Our doctors are the best,” he said. “I trust what they say, and our trainers. I just do what I’m told to do. Once I’m back out there again, we’ll monitor my reps and try to make it where it doesn’t blow up again.”
Until then, there is no timetable, and it’s a wait-and-see approach for a Bears defense that counts on its team captain and leader. Urlacher, who has started all 16 games in six of the last seven seasons but missed 15 games in 2009 with a dislocated wrist, said he feels some improvement.
“I’ve been off for nine, 10 days now,” he said. “It feels better. I’m not running around on it, (so) of course it’s not going to swell up as bad.”
Urlacher said he hasn’t been told that the current complications are a natural part of the healing process, which remains vague.
“I have no idea,” he said. “It’s hard to tell with an injury like I had, what causes it and why it’s doing this.”
In addition to the missed practice time, Urlacher was completely away from the team for the first five days of last week for what coach Lovie Smith said were “personal reasons.” For now, they will remain that way.
“It was a personal reason, just like coach Smith said,” Urlacher echoed.
In Urlacher’s absence, starting strong-side linebacker Nick Roach has moved into the middle, with unrestricted free agent pickup Geno Hayes filling in on the strong side. Roach has been a starter for most of the past four seasons, so he knows the defense, but he doesn’t expect to be in Urlacher’s spot on Sept. 9.
“Being in the middle, you have to know where everybody’s going to be,” he said of his additional duties. “It’s just a part of the position. So, when I go back (to the strong side), it’ll just give me that much more insight as to what’s going on with the whole defense.”
That’s the way Smith sees it as well.
“Brian’s going to be playing (middle linebacker) full time,” the Bears’ coach said. “Nick’s a great Sam (strong-side linebacker), and if we need him to play Mike (middle), he’ll be able to fill in.”
But the longer Roach fills in for Urlacher, the greater the concern that the future Hall of Famer may not ever return to his previous level of play on a full-time basis.