Bears prepare to face Olin Kreutz

Updated: September 12, 2011, 4:15 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Having destroyed the Atlanta Falcons 30-12 on Sunday to open the season, the Chicago Bears prepare for their second-consecutive NFC South opponent in the New Orleans Saints, which feature longtime franchise fixture Olin Kreutz at center.

A former third-round pick of the Bears in 1998, Kreutz played 13 seasons in Chicago before contentious contract negotiations resulted in a split between the player and the organization.

Kreutz signed with the Saints on Aug. 6 and faces his former team Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome.

"I don't know exactly what my feelings will be since every season I've had as a head football coach, I've had Olin right next to me," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Olin has moved on, we have. He'll be a lifetime friend. He knows we'll be pulling for him every other game except this week. That's how it goes."

Kreutz knows that all too well, considering he learned firsthand over the summer in contract negotiations with the Bears about the harsh reality of NFL business.

Prior to that, however, Kreutz -- now a captain with the Saints -- taught a few lessons during his tenure with the Bears. One is pregame preparation, which new center Roberto Garza -- Kreutz's replacement among the Bears' captains -- learned from lining up next to Kreutz for several years as a guard.

"I've been fortunate to play next to Olin for many years now, and learn the way he did things, and the preparation that goes into it," Garza said. "It's been weird (with Kreutz no longer on the team). We got a chance to watch a couple of games with him out there (playing for the Saints). It's still Olin, flying around, hitting people. It's a little weird to see him (wearing) that No. 50 (Kreutz wore No. 57 with the Bears). But you know, that's the NFL I guess."

Kreutz ranks third among NFL centers with 135 consecutive starts (134 of those starts with the Bears), dating back to 2002.

In the immediate aftermath last month of contract talks breaking down with the Bears, Kreutz told ESPNChicago.com that "I don't know if I could go somewhere and play for someone else. It has always been about the Bears."

Now, it's about beating them.

The Saints dropped their opener 42-34 to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday and look to rebound at home against a Bears team coming off an impressive performance.

The Bears have already started initial preparation for the Saints, and for Kreutz's former teammates, it's difficult to envision him in black and gold.

"Like Garza said, 50 looks weird on (Kreutz)," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "I watched him Thursday night and I watched him throughout the preseason. It just looks like a different jersey, but that's the NFL. (It's a) hostile environment down there; they're really good in that building. It's a good challenge for us."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter