Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was given multiple opportunities Wednesday to dispute or provide context to a Chicago Tribune report that he sought alternative treatment in Germany this spring for his troublesome left knee. So was the team. Both declined any comment of substance, other than Urlacher's willingness to confirm he was in Europe "last year" to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There is some risk in moving forward with anything based only on the absence of denial, but neither Urlacher nor the Bears are na´ve. This isn't a minor issue. They would have quashed the story if it were inaccurate. So now the question is this: What does this report mean?
I have a couple of thoughts.
First, it reveals that Urlacher was far more concerned about the condition of his knee this spring than either he or the Bears let on. The narrative we were told, one that became more difficult to believe as time went on, was that Urlacher and the team had agreed to an exceptionally slow timetable in returning from what was diagnosed as a sprain of the MCL and PCL in January.
The treatment identified by the Tribune, known as Regenokine, isn't brand new and has been used by other high-profile athletes. But it has not been approved for use in the United States, and generally speaking, it's safe to assume Urlacher would not have traveled to Europe for treatment if he didn't have significant concerns about his progress.
Those concerns appeared justified when the knee swelled after just five days of training camp practices. He has since undergone arthroscopic surgery and has acknowledged he will have to manage his practice time during the season. This latest revelation only enhances the notion that Urlacher is dealing with a significant injury, rather than a nagging one, and casts further doubt on whether he'll be effective over a 16-game season.
Second, it's easy to understand why the Bears aren't interested in continued public discussion on the topic. As more information comes to light, it becomes more relevant to question why the team didn't formulate a more extensive backup plan should Urlacher suffer the kind of setback that he ultimately did.
Moving your strongside linebacker to the middle, as the Bears have done with Nick Roach, weakens two of the three linebacker positions. But it's really the Bears' only option after another offseason went by without identifying an heir apparent or even finding a credible backup for a linebacker who is now 34 years old.
According to the Tribune, Urlacher arranged the alternate treatment and paid for it himself. So it's possible the team wasn't fully informed. Perhaps it might have acted differently if it had known. But surely the Bears were aware that Urlacher wasn't happy with his progress. That alone should have been viewed as a warning sign.
The Bears' point Wednesday, in essence, was that what's done is done. In the end, how Urlacher got himself back on the field might not be as important as the fact that he did. But at this sensitive time, when it's not entirely clear what his short- and long-term prognosis is, it is an important piece of information and has been duly noted.