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Monday, August 1, 2011
Brian Urlacher: Other leaders on Bears

By Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive stalwart Brian Urlacher described the departure of former teammate Olin Kreutz as "sad" on Monday, adding that the center's leadership abilities can't be duplicated.

"I learned a lot from Olin," Urlacher said. "I know I don't play O-line, but just watching him as a rookie, and the last 11 years, watching the way he works. (He) plays hurt, plays injured, never complains. (He) just goes out there practices and does his job. Too bad they couldn't get (a deal) done."

ESPNChicago.com reported on Saturday that Kreutz had started to contact former teammates to inform them that he wouldn't be returning because negotiations between him and the team had hit a major snag.

On Sunday, Bears coach Lovie Smith announced after practice that the sides couldn't come to an agreement, and that the team would be moving on with newly-acquired center Chris Spencer.

Jerry Angelo insisted he bargained in good faith, but agent Mark Bartelstein claimed that wasn't the case and indicated the general manager and Smith might not have been on the same page when it came to Kreutz.

Either way, the Bears will have a new center. And Angelo's reputation has another mark.

There was the botched trade with Baltimore during the first round of the draft, in which the Ravens were supposed to send the 26th pick to Chicago. It fell apart because the Bears neglected to phone the league to receive confirmation and Baltimore wound up picking 27th.

The Bears got the guy they wanted anyway, at No. 29, when they took offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, but they opted not to send the Ravens a draft pick even though commissioner Roger Goodell urged them to do so.

Now, there's the messy divorce with Kreutz even though players and coaches had said they wanted him back, and Spencer could be in a difficult spot after leaving Seattle for a two-year deal with Chicago.

Angelo said Spencer will have to earn a starting spot at center, and guard Roberto Garza could wind up there. The 11-year veteran has been filling in the first few days of training camp and, at 32, is the oldest offensive lineman on the roster.

"I'm the old guy now, you know? I've been here the longest and been around a great leader," said Garza, who joined the Bears in 2005. "Tough to fill his shoes, but you've got to step into the role that's asked."

Safety Chris Harris made his feelings clear Sunday with several Twitter posts, including this: "Olin Kreutz departure won't sit well in the locker room for a few days."

Angelo said he tries to take players' feelings into account when he puts together the roster, but it doesn't always work out.

"They didn't hire me to be loved," he said. "They hired me to make decisions based on what's in the best interests of the team. That's what it's about, people. Come on, this isn't a wake. We're sad, but nobody died. We wish (Kreutz) the best. He had a great career. Long after I'm forgotten, he's going to be long remembered, as well he should be."

Quarterback Jay Cutler, who was sacked frequently in the early going last year, was not available to reporters Monday to discuss Kreutz.

For now, the Bears are trying to move on.

Asked about potential candidates for replacing the leadership void left by Kreutz, Urlacher responded quickly.

"No one. No one is going to be like he was, I tell you that much," Urlacher said. "There are going to be a bunch out there who are going to have to do it. We'll get it done somehow on the offensive side of the ball. That stuff doesn't really mean that much to me. The rah-rah guys, we've never had any guys like that who run around yapping their mouths the whole time. We just kind of have guys who go out there and do their jobs. The yapping, what does that do?"

Urlacher pointed to the number of veteran players on the roster in assessing whether the Bears would suffer significantly because of Kreutz's departure.

"We'll be all right. We're a veteran team. We have guys who will step up and fill that role," Urlacher said. "Offensive line will be different because (Kreutz has) been the guy for 13 years over there. We have Garza. He'll do a good job. Frank (Omiyale) is there also. Hopefully, Spencer will do a good job and step in here, probably a little grace period for him. But he'll step in and do a good job."

Asked if he had heard from the organization about his Twitter posts, Harris said, "No, I haven't. I haven't. I might, I might not." He also said the Kreutz situation was simply "business," just as it was when he got traded by the Bears to Carolina four years ago. He wound up getting dealt back to Chicago before last season.

Harris said Kreutz was "a huge voice."

"He was kind of that guy that set the locker room straight," he said. "If things needed to go down, he was the guy that did it. He'll definitely be missed from that point, but at some point in time, we've got to get over it."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.