Urlacher healthy, happy to be back

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- More than eight months removed from a wrist dislocation that wiped out almost his entire 2009 season, Brian Urlacher got back to the business of talking football on Sunday.

"It was fun, even this offseason when we started our workouts, it was just nice to be back around the guys again," Urlacher said after the Chicago Bears wrapped up a three-day minicamp at Halas Hall. "Joking around, lifting, working out, I missed it. I don't know if they missed me last year, but it's fun to be back especially on the football field."

The six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker fully participated in all five minicamp workouts, showing no visible effects from a wrist injury that required emergency surgery.

"I feel good," Urlacher said. "I have no limitations of what I can do on the football field. I feel good. I had a year off, so I feel pretty good. I'm just excited I get to practice again."

He got plenty of attention on Thursday when he ripped Bears legend Gale Sayers for making critical comments about Urlacher, Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith. On Sunday, Urlacher only wanted to talk football.

Urlacher's recovery and subsequent return helps the defense in several key areas.

"He's the face of the franchise," new Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "His presence in the huddle, I would never take anything away from No. 92 [Hunter Hillenmeyer] because he did a heck of a job, too, but [Urlacher] has a presence in the huddle. He can communicate, run the defense ... and that's a confident feeling. That huddle is about confidence. You get the huddle break, he gets everybody aligned and set, and his play will speak for itself."

"We're better with him," Smith said. "He's a great player. He makes our defense work. [He's] the quarterback of the defense. For the seven years I've been here I've heard him giving the signals, and the players have, too. That's important, and when a great player can make plays like that, just having him start everything off is good."

But Urlacher's presence alone won't fix the defense. The Bears aggressively tried to improve the unit during the offseason, landing the biggest prize in free agency, defensive end Julius Peppers.

"I think we're better," Urlacher said. "I think anytime you get a player like Julius Peppers you're going to be better right away. He's awesome. He works his tail off everyday. Doesn't say much, but he works his tail off. We got Chris [Harris] back and that's a big addition for us, giving us someone in the back end there that knows the defense. He communicates well, everything."

"It's exciting. We'll be excited when the season gets here."

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.