Chicago in Need Of Future Pillar
CHICAGO – What the Bears really could use in this draft is another Brian Urlacher and another Lance Briggs.
What is another Urlacher?
Round 1: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Rounds 2-3: Friday, 5 p.m.
Rounds 4-7: Saturday, 10 a.m.
TV: NFL Network, ESPN
It is not necessarily a middle linebacker.
But it is a young player who leads by action that the Bears can build their defense around for the next decade. It is a player who will go to multiple Pro Bowls and make teammates better.
What is another Briggs?
It is not necessarily an outside linebacker.
But it is a young defender who can be a big piece of the team’s foundation, who is consistent from game to game and year to year and who almost always answers the bell. It is a playmaker who will be recognized as one of the best. It is an athlete who can transcend future scheme changes.
When the great Bears defense of the 1980s started to crumble, then-vice president Bill Tobin had the right idea.
In the 1989 and ’90 drafts, he used five picks in the first or second rounds on cornerback Donnell Woolford, defensive end Trace Armstrong, linebacker John Roper, safety Mark Carrier and defensive tackle Fred Washington.
Woolford, Armstrong and Carrier all became building blocks for the Bears, though none of them lasted in Chicago as long as Urlacher and Briggs have.
Urlacher is entering his 13th year as a Bear. He has played for three general managers, two head coaches, five defensive coordinators and five linebacker coaches. The Bears have paid him around $70 million for his services – and he has been worth every cent.
Briggs will begin his 10th season in Chicago with 1,286 career tackles. In the time he has been the Bears’ outside linebacker, a dozen players have made starts at quarterback.
So how do the Bears go about finding players like these two?
Certainly, it isn’t easy. New general manager Phil Emery might have an idea though. He was on the Bears scouting staff in 2000 when Urlacher was drafted and in 2003 when Briggs was picked.
What Emery can be sure of is he will need a little luck, as the Bears had with Urlacher.
Though the late Mark Hatley was running the draft then, Emery said former scout John Paul Young should be given most of the credit for Urlacher.
Urlacher was a safety, or rover, at New Mexico. The Bears picked him to play strong-side linebacker, and he was a bust there.
“We asked him to line up as an outside linebacker over the tight end,” Emery recalled. “We felt all that length would make him an ideal outside linebacker. He was anointed as the starter from day one, and he struggled. It wasn’t natural for him. He lost the starting job.
“Then the middle linebacker (Barry Minter) got hurt. We needed someone who could run. Well, Brian, could run. They put him in the middle, and he started making plays immediately. The rest is history.”
The Bears had a little luck with Briggs too. GM Jerry Angelo drafted him for then-coordinator Greg Blache’s defense, but it turned out he was perfect for Smith’s Cover-2 scheme.
The Bears wanted a linebacker that year, so Angelo assigned a committee of scouts, including Emery, to study a small group that included Nick Barnett, Victor Hobson and Briggs.
The committee wanted Briggs all along.
Who could be another Urlacher or Briggs for the Bears?
It would not be a stretch to envision Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly joining the sterling tradition of Bears linebackers that encompasses Bulldog Turner, George Connor, Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Urlacher and Briggs. Kuechly is the highest rated linebacker in the draft and would fit in perfectly with Smith’s scheme.
But perhaps big Dont’a Hightower from Alabama one day could take the baton from Urlacher. Maybe Zach Brown could bring us back to the days of Otis Wilson or Doug Buffone.
Obviously, Emery will be looking for unusual speed and size like Urlacher has. He will be looking for rare instinct like Briggs has.
And he will be looking for the toughness, passion, competitiveness and selflessness he once saw and still sees in both players.
Ultimately, he will be looking for faces he can envision carved in bronze.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal