Commentary

Worst-case scenario

Bears face a huge obstacle with season-ending injury to Urlacher

Originally Published: September 14, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Danieal Manning was in that familiar pose known as NFL postgame, Sunday night -- half-dressed, hunched over and looking at his cleats as if willing them to fall off themselves.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLance Briggs is the only healthy member of the Bears' linebacking corps that started Sunday.

"It's gonna to take a while," he said, half to a reporter, half to his shoes.

The pain was not his alone. And yes, it is going to take a while.

To assess this Bears team. To see whether the offense can get back on track. To determine whether the Bears can rebound from Sunday night's excruciating 21-15 loss to Green Bay, much less potentially without five players, including two-thirds of their starting linebacker corps, and most conspicuously, team leader Brian Urlacher. Injuries like those derail better teams than the Bears appeared to be Sunday night.

It was confirmed Monday morning that Urlacher, a 10-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowler, is out for the season after dislocating his wrist in the first quarter against the Packers and undergoing surgery Monday morning.

The Bears, naturally, will say all the things football coaches and football players say. That these things happen.

"You've got to understand, football is not for long," said the only healthy starting linebacker, Lance Briggs. "Anything can happen any day."

They will say Hunter Hillenmeyer simply will have to "step up," the way possibly four others will have to step up for starting linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (sprained knee), starting left guard Frank Omiyale (ankle), tight end Desmond Clark (back) and cornerback Trumaine McBride (knee).

"It was tough," Adewale Ogunleye said Sunday night of Urlacher's exit, "but as you can see, we responded really well. My hat goes off to Hunter. He came in and really played that position well."

Yes, he did. Hillenmeyer, who at one time was so far back on the depth chart this preseason that there was serious speculation he would not make the team, is a veteran. He will be serviceable. He will not make stupid mistakes.

"We can't think about it," Tommie Harris said of what will happen without Urlacher and Tinoisamoa. "That's why the guys behind them get paid just like they do."

Well, yes. But usually they don't get paid as much as the better players who are starters.

Before Sunday night, Bears fans hoped the defense could keep the team in games -- or at least keep opponents from scoring more than somewhere in the 30-point range -- so that "The Franchise" could do his thing and win 11, 12, 13, 16 games.

Now, of course, the curtain has been rudely pulled away from that fantasy, and we see that Jay Cutler is a work in progress, just like the entire Bears team.

"We're still learning," Cutler said more than once after flinging a career-high four interceptions in the loss to the Packers.

But learning in the NFC North has to be on the run, at best. And the Bears' offense showed few signs that graduation is occurring any time soon.

"I think I was probably trying to do too much, too," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said when asked whether that was at the root of Cutler's problems. "We all have to come out, try to get a little bit better. I have to get better, everybody in this locker room has to get better and do the things we did well, build on those and eliminate the mistakes. We had too many mistakes."

Not every team will throw the skill of the Packers' secondary at the Bears. But anything close, and Cutler is likely to throw a few more tantrums of the type we saw at Lambeau when his receivers, in many cases, just couldn't get open, including his so-called favorite pass-catcher, tight end Greg Olsen, who was in no mood to talk Sunday night. But it is on defense that things could get even uglier. Urlacher has not been to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons while dealing with neck and back issues, but he had talked about feeling rejuvenated and better than ever after a healthy offseason. And we have seen what can happen when a spiritual defensive leader (see: Mike Brown) goes out for the season.

Speculation began immediately Monday morning as ESPN.com's Adam Schefter reported that the Bears contacted the agent for linebacker Derrick Brooks. The 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker is 36 and was cut by Tampa Bay early in the offseason. But he also is a former Lovie Smith disciple and apparently is "ready to go," as his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, told the Sun-Times. Also, that he "would love to play for the Bears."

But that, too, would be a learning process, and no one should expect Brooks to be near Urlacher's caliber. The Bears also need to fill Tinoisamoa's spot, which Nick Roach did ably Sunday night.

As for Clark, the tight end's void surely would be noticeable, particularly for his run blocking. And Omiyale's loss will be deeply felt as well, just hopefully not in a literal sense by Cutler, who obviously does not take frustration particularly well.

Considering what we're looking at Monday morning, he might want to consider some deep-breathing techniques.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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