Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the delicate topic brought forth by Tuesday's Pro Bowl selection announcement: Despite strong popularity with fans, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is no longer regarded as a top middle linebacker by his peers in the league.
Urlacher finished second in fan voting among NFC middle linebackers, which counts one-third of a player's total vote. The other two-thirds comes from other players and coaches. While we don't know where Urlacher ranked in those votes, it was low enough to finish the overall voting as the NFC's third alternate.
But it is also possible, likely even, that Urlacher is simply reaping the reasoned deflationary status he deserves -- and maybe has deserved -- as a highly hyped and highly paid poster boy in the historic City of Middle Linebackers. Though he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 after being snatched out of New Mexico by the Bears in the first round of the draft, Urlacher almost immediately made some folks feel he was being overly promoted because he held down the sacred spot once worked by legendary Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
Urlacher has had a solid season in 2008, but you need more than solid from a middle linebacker in a Tampa-2 system -- especially when your contract was upgraded by $18 million this summer. Urlacher has always been about making big plays, but this season he has two interceptions, no forced fumbles and no sacks. Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, the Bears' lone Pro Bowl selection, has nearly 40 more tackles than him.
Is it time for the Bears to start a search for a new middle linebacker? Telander:
Every year, a fresh crop of young savages comes out of our colleges, lurching toward the NFL like zombies smelling blood. One day soon, the Bears will be looking at an Urlacher replacement. It is time to see a re-emergence of this city icon, a final late surge, guided perhaps by offseason frenzy from the potential Hall of Fame man in the middle. Either Urlacher does that, or the Pro Bowl kid from the high desert drifts into the sunset.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Wednesday morning:
- Briggs on his status as the Bears' top defensive player: "I do feel like ... obviously after four Pro Bowls, I'm definitely a big piece of what we do. Whether it's my defense or whose defense it is, that's not necessarily for me to decide right now. I do think that my role, as far as what we do, is definitely bigger." Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has the story.
- Bears tailback Matt Forte isn't worried about his injured right big toe, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson said Tuesday it is "disappointing" that the Packers defense hasn't played better considering its talent level. Woodson and safety Nick Collins were named to the Pro Bowl. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has details.
- Collins was at an ultrasound appointment with his wife when he learned the news, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Minnesota linebacker Ben Leber has stepped up in the absence of E.J. Henderson, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Receiver Bobby Wade has been the Vikings' leading receiver since joining the team in 2007, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Detroit placed three more players on injured reserve Tuesday: Receiver Shaun McDonald (ankle), safety Dwight Smith (ankle) and cornerback Keith Smith (groin). John Niyo of the Detroit News has details.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com to the Lions fans base: "I firmly believe that once you start rooting for your team to lose, you're no longer a fan."
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