Right tackle James (Big Cat) Williams has been a Bear for 10
seasons, so much longer than any of his teammates that he's the
only current Chicago player who experienced the Bears' last
winning season, 1995, when they had a modest 9-7 record. At age
33 and with so much losing under his extra-large belt (Chicago
has gone 26-54 over the past five seasons), it stands to reason
that Big Cat is eagerly seeking someone to lead the Bears to
better things. That someone is a 6'3", 244-pound middle
linebacker with a bull's neck and a cheetah's speed who just
turned 23 and who plays with a hunger commensurate with his
youth. "I don't care one bit how young he is," says Williams. "If
Brian Urlacher's making plays like he makes, that guy is our
The kind of plays Urlacher made last year were good enough to
earn him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and a trip to
the Pro Bowl. In his first season out of New Mexico--as the ninth
player taken in the 2000 draft, Urlacher became the first Lobo to
be picked in the first round in 23 years--he led the Bears with
165 tackles, eight sacks and seven tackles for a loss, and made
countless swooping sorties across the field to stonewall
In seeking to redefine Chicago's defensive identity in the
off-season, management looked first to Urlacher and then to the
East. It saw how the Ravens had been built around middle
linebacker Ray Lewis, in part by employing huge defensive tackles
Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa to occupy blockers. Thus the Bears
signed veteran defensive tackles Keith Traylor (6'2", 304) and
Ted Washington (6'5", 330) in hopes that they will allow Urlacher
to roam even more freely than he did last year. "Urlacher's our
franchise player, no question," says defensive coordinator Greg
Blache. "He's a rare talent, and he can already run the huddle
When the Bears opened camp a year ago, Urlacher was a shy
newcomer, struggling to learn the defense and interacting
hesitantly with his teammates. An onlooker would not have seen
then what fans saw at a preseason practice in Platteville, Wis.,
last month as Chicago worked on its red-zone play. Just before
the snap, Urlacher hastily adjusted the positioning of two other
members of the Bears' swift linebacking core, Rosey Colvin and
Khari Samuel. Then, after quarterback Shane Matthews's pass was
batted away by defensive back Mike Green, Urlacher shouted,
"There you go, that's professional coverage right there. Now
let's stay with it everybody, back to the line, quick."
When Urlacher himself broke up the next play with a tip, he
erupted into the goofy guffaws that have become his trademark. "I
love that laugh, 'cause it's honest," says safety Mike Brown.
"Brian has fun, and that's infectious. He always comes back
laughing after he makes a big play, and he makes a lot of those,
Part of the reason a second-year player has assumed a leadership
role with the Bears is that traditional leader types have had
their authority undermined. To wit:
--Matthews can't lead because no one knows how long he'll hold the
quarterback job over backups Jim Miller and Danny Wuerffel. "This
could change at any time," said coach Dick Jauron moments after
naming Matthews his starter in August.
--Jauron can't lead because his players know there's a good chance
he'll be gone before the start of next season. Jauron is well
liked, but he's 11-21 over two seasons in his first stint as a
head coach. New general manager Jerry Angelo, who came over from
the Bucs and who prowled the sidelines ominously during the
preseason, isn't about to commit long-term to a man he didn't
--The veteran defenders can't lead because they are either too new
to the team, like Traylor and Washington, or too deep into the
twilight of their careers, like defensive end Clyde Simmons.
Urlacher downplays his status. "It's the nature of playing middle
linebacker," he says, "that puts me in a leadership role."
How well Urlacher's defense plays will determine whether Chicago
can approach respectability, because its offense is no better
than it was last year, when it scored more than 16 points in a
game only five times. Williams, at least, is a potential Pro Bowl
candidate at right tackle. He's also the one Bear who played with
Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary in the early
1990s. Urlacher is repeatedly reminded that he's heir to a
tradition that includes not only Singletary but also Dick Butkus.
"Brian can be that type of player," says Williams. "He's a young
guy whose dedication reminds me of an old guy. He's enthusiastic,
he trains hard, and he can really play. That's pretty much what
you want in a leader."
COLOR PHOTO: BERNIE NUNEZ/SPORTS IMAGERY The dazzling Urlacher made plays all over the field in his rookie season; now he has to learn to play team leader.
COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL BROWN
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bears
"The Bears' quarterback situation has buried them in the past....
Cade McNown failed because [former offensive coordinator Gary]
Crowton's offense placed too much emphasis on the quarterback's
making quick reads and reacting. Shane Matthews is a smart player
but not the guy who'll take that team anywhere. He'll just get
hurt like he always does.... [New offensive coordinator] John
Shoop is bright. His game plans, after taking over from Crowton
at the end of last year, were sound. He'll need his receivers to
step up, but Marcus Robinson has struggled with his back for a
couple of years now, [rookie] David Terrell is still an unknown
after injuring his shoulder early in camp, and neither Bobby
Engram or Marty Booker is a big-play guy.... Skip Hicks [a free
agent from the Redskins] is likely to beat out James Allen at
running back. Allen lacks speed and he's hurt.... The defense
should be all right. Look for Ted Washington to occupy blockers
in the middle. Brian Urlacher is still learning, but with a year
under his belt, his instincts will be that much better.... Mike
Brown is a big-time talent--a Pro Bowl player in a year or two.
He's smart, he makes all the calls in the secondary, and he's
tough.... This team is at least a couple of years away from doing
anything decent. Whether it's the coaching or the drafts, it
seems the Bears are still trying to find their way. I don't see
how they won't finish last in that division."
Sept. 9 at Baltimore
30 Open date
Oct. 7 at Atlanta
21 at Cincinnati
28 SAN FRANCISCO
Nov. 4 CLEVELAND
11 GREEN BAY
18 at Tampa Bay
25 at Minnesota
Dec. 2 DETROIT
9 at Green Bay
16 TAMPA BAY
23 at Washington
30 at Detroit
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 21 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .488
Games against playoff teams: 5
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Dick Jauron; third season with Chicago (11-21 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 5-11 (fifth in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 21/23/23; defense 19/17/16
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Shane Matthews 121 178 att. 102 comp. 57.3% 964 yds.
3 TDs 6 int. 64.0 rtg.
RB James Allen 69 290 att. 1,120 yds. 3.9 avg. 39 rec.
291 yds. 7.5 avg. 3 TDs
RB Anthony Thomas 113 319 att. 1,733 yds. 5.4 avg. 17 rec.
(R)[N] 271 yds. 15.9 avg. 19 TDs
FB Daimon Shelton[N] 351 2 att. 3 yds. 1.5 avg. 4 rec.
48 yds. 12.0 avg. 0 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Marcus Robinson 75 55 rec. 738 yds. 5 TDs
WR David Terrell(R)[N] 90 67 rec. 1,130 yds. 14 TDs
WR Bobby Engram 201 16 rec. 109 yds. 0 TDs
TE Fred Baxter[N] 172 4 rec. 22 yds. 2 TDs
K Paul Edinger 251 21/21 XPs 21/27 FGs 84 pts.
PR Glyn Milburn 345 35 ret. 8.6 avg. 0 TDs
KR Glyn Milburn 345 63 ret. 23.3 avg. 0 TDs
LT Blake Brockermeyer 6'4" 300 lbs. 15 games 14 starts
LG Rex Tucker 6'5" 315 lbs. 6 games 0 starts
C Olin Kreutz 6'2" 285 lbs. 7 games 7 starts
RG Chris Villarrial 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 games 15 starts
RT James Williams 6'7" 331 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Bryan Robinson 50 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Ted Washington[N]58 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RT Mike Wells 49 tackles 1 sack
RE Phillip Daniels 42 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Rosevelt Colvin 36 tackles 3 sacks
MLB Brian Urlacher 124 tackles 8 sacks
OLB Warrick Holdman 80 tackles 0 sacks
CB Walt Harris 40 tackles 2 int.
SS Tony Parrish 86 tackles 3 int.
FS Mike Brown 101 tackles 1 int.
CB R.W. McQuarters 32 tackles 1 int.
P Brad Maynard[N] 79 punts 40.6 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"Whether it's the coaching or the drafts, it seems they're still
trying to find their way."