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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Coach vague about Brian Urlacher

By Jeff Dickerson
ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- First-year Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman said Thursday he recently had a lengthy phone conversation with impending free agent Brian Urlacher, but he refused to elaborate on the future of the soon-to-be 35-year-old middle linebacker.

Trestman was vague when asked if the Bears intend to re-sign Urlacher for a 14th season. Urlacher was limited to 12 games last season because of a hamstring strain. He also missed nearly the entire 2012 offseason and preseason because of lingering knee issues that required multiple procedures to correct. But Urlacher has said he believes he can still play at a high level.

"The organization is going through that process," Trestman said. "I said that at the press conference (when he got hired) ... I'm excited to come here because Brian Urlacher has been such an important part of this, and I watched him play. But again, to talk about where that thing is going would be premature for me to talk about it at this time."

Free agency begins March 12.

Since being named Bears coach Jan. 16, Trestman estimated he's reached out to roughly two-thirds of the club's roster, including Urlacher, who typically spends a good portion of his offseason in Arizona.

"I spoke with him on the phone," Trestman said. "He's in Arizona, (so) I spoke with him on the phone and had a 30- to 40-minute discussion. He was great. We just talked generally about the team, not specifically about his situation. I asked him about the team, the locker room ... just trying to gather as much information as I can to do a better job as we move through the spring."

Urlacher has been steadfast in his public desire to remain with the Bears, despite his loyalty to Lovie Smith, who was fired Dec. 31. During a recent visit on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000, Urlacher even said he would take less money than he's made in the past.

"When you look at my age, it's going to be hard to not give them a discount," Urlacher said. "I'm not going to make what I was making in the past, how about that? Does that make sense? That's fair."

Trestman knows Urlacher wants to stay in Chicago.

"I don't think there was any question that he loves Chicago and this is a place that he would like to be," Trestman said. "There was no question there. I'll leave it at that. I don't think it's any more than that. Coming in here as I have, I'm not as attuned to the entire situation, certainly the economics and all the things that go into it. That's the thing that is going to be a process between Brian and the organization as we move forward."

Urlacher's value on the open market is unknown. He earned $7.5 million in base salary and $500,000 in a workout bonus in 2012 when he counted $9.7 million against the salary cap. It's unclear if Urlacher will be in a position to command that type of money from another team or if he'll be forced to take a significant pay cut to continue playing.

One development that could work in Urlacher's favor is that new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker announced Thursday the team would continue to employ a 4-3 defense, the same defensive front used by Smith the past nine seasons. The Bears were also a 4-3 defense, albeit a different version, under Dick Jauron and Greg Blache in Urlacher's first four years in the league from 2000 to 2003.

However, Tucker deflected questions that pertained to Urlacher's potential role in the defense moving forward.

"I'm not going to talk about individual personnel right now," Tucker said. "We're still in the evaluation process. At some point, we will cross that bridge but not today."

An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Urlacher finished second on the team in tackles for a loss (seven), tied for second in forced fumbles (two) and fourth in overall tackles (88), despite his abbreviated season.

Trestman also acknowledged he had a brief, face-to-face meeting with disgruntled wide receiver/return man Devin Hester, but claimed the two did not specifically discuss what Hester's role would be moving forward if he remained on the team. Hester is under contract for one more season and is scheduled to earn a $1.857 million base salary and $250,000 workout bonus, but he recently went public with the idea he'd be open to a trade because of the way he's been used in the offense.

"I can tell you he stopped by, I shook his hand and we had a chance to speak for a few minutes but we didn't get specific on anything," Trestman said. "It was just an opportunity to get to know each other, and not to put into concrete exactly what his role would be if he winds up coming back."

Hester is coming off a disappointing season, with only 23 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown, while averaging just 8.3 yards per punt return, 8 yards below his average the previous year (16.3).

New Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis told reporters he's still trying to figure out why Hester, just two years removed from scoring three special teams touchdowns in 2011, struggled the way he did last season in the return game.

"It's hard to say whether or not he had the same opportunities every time, whether he didn't, all that kind of stuff," DeCamillis said. "We've watched the film and we'll be going over it another two to three times before we make a determination. Just like any other player, we want to make sure they have a chance to be successful. Devin is not different.

"Hopefully, we'll get everything squared away. We'll just keep evaluating everything and just try to get done what we can with whoever is here."