NFL Nation: Brian Urlacher

In the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, some current and former Chicago Bears made the rounds for interviews, discussing subjects ranging from the actual game to junior-high crushes.

“Mike & Mike” caught up with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to discuss Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, among other subjects, while tight end Martellus Bennett appeared on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” where he reminisced about playing the clarinet in junior high.

Urlacher, who faced Lynch four times -- including the postseason -- from 2010-12 compared the Seahawks running back to Ricky Williams. Lynch averaged 3.4 yards per attempt in those four matchups against Urlacher, and he never rushed for more than 87 yards in a game.

“Ricky Williams, in my opinion, was one of the better guys in the league,” Urlacher said. “He didn’t have the balance that Marshawn has. Marshawn, he’s hard to tackle. I only played against him a couple of times. We did OK against him in Chicago when I was there. But he’s a different guy now. He’s not the same player he was back then. He’s clicking on all cylinders.”

Lynch
What makes Lynch such a dominant player?

“Obviously, you look at how strong he is. He doesn’t put the ball on the ground, No. 1. He takes care of the football; catches it well,” Urlacher said. “He does everything you want a guy to do. That offense, they want to run the football, which is good because he’s a powerful guy. With that little zone-read, man, it’s hard because if you get him one-on-one, he’s gonna make a guy miss.”

Shifting to the New England Patriots, Urlacher called Gronkowski “a terrible matchup problem.”

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
“He’s physical. The one game I played against him I think he pushed off on me for a touchdown. Offensive guys can get away with that. But he’s so good at using his body. He’s got great hands,” Urlacher said. “That catch he made against the Colts with a deflated football. ... I think it was in the second half. It was a full football. But the guy’s got great hands; big, physical guy, fast. You watch him catch the ball and guys can’t tackle him. The run he had against, I want to say Indy the first time they played, when he jumped over the guy in the end zone, he has no regard for his body. He’s a matchup problem for any defensive coordinator. Who do you put on him? Do you put a linebacker [on him]? No, he’s not gonna run on him. Do you put a safety [on him]? Probably undersized, unless it’s Kam Chancellor, then you have a little bit better chance.”

Urlacher also dished on Seattle’s defense and where it stands among some of the other great defensive units in NFL history.

“I think they’re already in that breath,” Urlacher said. “When you look at what they’ve done statistically over the last couple of years, and it’s rarely been done in the NFL. So I think they’re already in that category. If they beat [Tom] Brady, they solidify it, in my opinion.”

Bennett
Bennett, meanwhile, discussed more lighthearted topics during his time on the interview circuit. Bennett divulged that as an eighth-grader growing up in Texas, he was a member of his school’s band.

“So I learned to play the clarinet because they had this one pretty girl named Amanda,” Bennett said. “She was pretty good. But she ended up being second chair to me because I was first chair, which is big-time in band. If you’re first chair, that means like being first team. Second chair is like being almost as good as the first chair.”

So what happened with Amanda?

“We didn’t have a relationship. It was one of those things,” Bennett said. “She was Korean, and I was a 6-7 black guy in eighth grade. I don’t think her parents liked me as much.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears spent a portion of Wednesday’s practice focusing on tactics for neutralizing St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin in the kicking game.

Austin
In the Rams’ Nov. 10 win at Indianapolis, Austin returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in addition to scoring on receptions of 57 and 81 yards. Chicago’s staff considers Austin as dangerous as Bears return man Devin Hester.

“I’ve seen too much of him. I watched him in his college days, evaluating him, and I’ve seen him on tape,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Our emphasis today was certainly on covering, how to kick to him. Just flip it over and imagine it was Devin. Those are the things we are going through in our preparation for Tavon. He’s a difference-maker, no doubt about it. If you give him space, he’ll take advantage of it.”

That’s where directional kicking comes into play for punter Adam Podlesh, who specializes in that area. Austin averages 8.9 yards per return on punts and 23.6 yards on kickoffs.

On offense, Austin is tied for the team lead in receptions (33) and touchdowns(4).

Chicago’s in-depth knowledge of Austin stems from team’s interest and pre-draft evaluation of the former West Virginia star, who ended up being taken with the eighth-overall pick.

“Just flat-out explosion [is what you see with Austin],” Bears special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. “We did a lot of work on him last year during the draft. He’s picking it up. He’s got his confidence growing right now. The thing that nobody gets is how many returns he’s had called back. [Against] Dallas, a touchdown, a 50 yarder and there were several others during the year. It’s going to be a real test for us.”

One made even more difficult by the fact the Bears are utilizing so many inexperienced players on special teams because of injuries.

“We’ve got one that’s like him [in Devin Hester],” DeCamillis said. “I know when we were playing Devin [in the past], it was always nerve-wracking getting ready for him, and it’s the same thing with this guy. Our guys are going to be up for the task, and we’re going to kick if off and let’s see how we do.”
Teams fake injuries in high school, college and the NFL whether it’s to slow down a high-powered offense or to take away momentum from a charging offense during a key moment in a game. So what former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said in his new role as an analyst for Fox Sports 1 wasn’t all that revelatory.

Urlacher said that during his tenure with the Bears, the club utilized the practice of faking injuries to slow down offenses.

Urlacher
So perhaps the next time a player is penalized for faking an injury, he’ll blame the media. But he won’t be able to place the onus on the traditional media.

He can put that on Urlacher.

It’s interesting that a player who so often shunned the media throughout a 13-year career that should land him in the Hall of fame, made a huge splash in the NFL news cycle this week as a member of the media in his new role as a Fox Sports 1 analyst.

Urlacher’s revelation even made the NFL act on Thursday when it sent a memo reminding teams that “faking injuries” can result in disciplinary action and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The league cited the Supplemental Note to Rule 4, Section 5, Article 4, which says:

“The Competition Committee deprecates feigning injuries, with subsequent withdrawal, to obtain a timeout without penalty. Coaches are urged to cooperate in discouraging this practice. Be advised that violators of this policy will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game which could include fines of coaches, players, and clubs, suspensions or forfeiture of draft choices. We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule and teams are strongly urged to continue to cooperate with this policy."

Feigning injuries isn’t unique to defensive players with so many teams preparing to face no-huddle, up-tempo attacks. Steelers’ receiver Emmanuel Sanders was fined $15,000 for feigning injury last season, and the Steelers were fined $35,000 as a team.

So again, Urlacher shed light on nothing new. Feigning injuries to force a stoppage in play is a widespread practice nobody talks about. If anything, Urlacher just broke locker-room code (Lance Briggs didn't seem offended on Thursday) by revealing tricks of the trade, which is interesting, given that throughout his career, he basically embodied what it was to be a Chicago Bear; and the one thing what we know about that team is it doesn’t make in-house matters public.
Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher “would be shocked” if former head coach Lovie Smith isn’t leading a new team in 2014.

Smith
Urlacher ate lunch with Smith a couple of weeks ago, and told the “Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000 that the coach isn’t as far removed from the game as some might think.

Fired in January with a year left on his contract after the Bears finished with a 10-6 record and missed the playoffs, Smith is still being paid by the organization.

“He’s not away from the game,” said Urlacher, now an analyst with Fox. “He’s still doing some stuff. He’s still preparing like he always has been. He’s watching film. He’s watching all the games just to try and stay (up) with what’s going on in the NFL, and trying to keep one leg up on those offenses with all the way they’re changing and stuff."

Why? Because Smith is expecting to make a return to the sidelines as a head coach at some point. During the offseason, a source told ESPN.com that Smith wasn’t interested in taking any jobs as a coordinator. But with the inevitable coaching vacancies that typically come up during the offseason, Smith could be looking to be a head coach again.

Urlacher thinks Smith should be the favorite for whatever openings arise.

“I would be shocked because he’s too good of a head coach to not be coaching a football team,” Urlacher said. “There’s always vacancies. Every year, people get fired. If he’s not at the top of the list, I’d be very surprised.”

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