Urlacher practices but unlikely to play Sunday
Dec 29, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Bears have started the process to see if Brian Urlacher will be ready for a wild-card playoff game next weekend but barring something unexpected he will not be in uniform Sunday against the Lions in Detroit.
The middle linebacker returned to limited practice Friday in the Walter Payton Center for the first time since pulling a hamstring in the Dec. 2 loss to the Seahawks. The Bears have listed him as doubtful on the injury report and while coach Lovie Smith talked around the possibility Urlacher could play against the Lions in a must-win game, it's clear the path the team has him on is for a return in the postseason.
The Bears (9-6) must beat the Lions (4-11) and have the Packers win at Minnesota to make the playoffs, but Urlacher simply isn't physically able to play.
He took only a few reps from Nick Roach during practice and doesn't have the stamina needed to play. Typically, when a player has missed as much time as Urlacher, the team likes to have him practice for more than a week before returning to game action. This is a desperate situation but if a player isn't ready, the circumstances don't matter.
"I was encouraged he was finally able to get on the practice field, and it's not like we had a full padded practice," Smith said. "But he was able to move around. Brian doesn't have to necessarily practice a full practice before we would play him, but we're not to that point. We're just going to look at how he moved around and see how he feels after today."
Smith said Urlacher did not practice at full speed and when questions about the 34-year-old captain wore on, he finally tired of the topic.
"I wouldn't take off too far on the Brian Urlacher talk," he said. "He had a limited practice, he hasn't done anything and today he was able to do a little bit. I can't give you much more than that."
If the Bears reach the playoffs, a full week of practice next week could position Urlacher for a return. But there is no guarantee of that.
Roach has made 32 tackles in the last three games at middle linebacker, including 14 last Sunday in the victory over the Cardinals.
"(I am) more comfortable than when I've had to do it in past years," Roach said. "Just from being around it a little more, having a little more experience. I enjoy it. Get a chance to do a lot more in terms of making plays, get a few more opportunities. You don't have to come off the field, so it's good."
The possibility exists that Urlacher, who has been the face of the franchise for nearly his entire career and has played in 182 games over 13 seasons, has played his final game for the Bears.
He is in the final year of his contract and some believe his future with the organization could be tied to Smith, who has just one year left on his contract. His knee issues this season limited his range but he still ranks third on the defense with 88 tackles and second with seven stops for a loss.
Players don't want to consider the future and the change it could bring with it even if it might not be far off.
"No," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "My job right now is to focus on beating the Detroit Lions. That's what all of our jobs are right now. We need to focus on trying to get ourselves into the postseason."
That's when the Bears might see Urlacher back on the field -- in the postseason.
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