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Chicago Tribune In the Wake of the News column
[August 19, 2012]

Chicago Tribune In the Wake of the News column

Aug 19, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Every August in Chicago, exhibition football guarantees only overpriced tickets at Soldier Field and overreaction throughout the city.

I can do nothing about the NFL continuing to charge full price to see an inferior product. But perhaps I can help temper civic enthusiasm after Saturday night's impressive display from the Bears starters in the second exhibition at Soldier Field against the Redskins.

Fun as it was to watch, the strong showing meant as little as the embarrassing 31-3 loss to the Broncos in the opener that, based on my email and Twitter messages, had some Bears fans pondering Packerhood.

The Bears accomplished two things in Game 2: Unlike the Redskins, they avoided serious injury to a difference-making player and they briefly changed the subject from the troubling topic of Brian Urlacher's health.

They did the latter on their first offensive snap. Jay Cutler dropped back, planted his feet and comfortably threw a pass in the direction of the most talented wide receiver ever to wear a Bears uniform. Brandon Marshall came down with the underthrown ball for a 41-yard gain that provided a glimpse of the big plays to come. Three plays later, the two connected for a 20-yard gain that reminded everybody how hard the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall is to bring down.

Yes, this marked the first time I have seen the Bears play. Yes, the last time I was in a stadium this full, Usain Bolt was making history at the Olympics. And although what I witnessed on an ideal night on the lakefront was much less historic, it carried an air of distinction. It possessed an I-have-never seen-this-before feel.

The Bears never have had a quarterback and wide receiver this dynamic play together. Ever. The possibilities created by Cutler throwing to Marshall -- as evidenced in their first NFL game since they were Broncos -- almost give the Bears reason to think they can overcome other deficiencies.


They can't. To be the best team Lovie Smith says he has coached, they need a healthy Urlacher in December more than September. To get to the Super Bowl, they will need Urlacher in the postseason more than they do in the first quarter of the regular season. The left knee of the franchise player remains the biggest issue of the preseason no matter how much the Cutler-Marshall combination temporarily distracted everyone. Don't rush its recovery.

That's what made Bears general manager Phil Emery's pre-game interview with WBBM-AM so curious. Emery supported the timing of Urlacher's arthroscopic surgery Tuesday but miscalculated by saying, "The most important game on the schedule right now is the first one." That echoed the odd refrain from Urlacher about "September 9," being the only date that matters in regard to his return.

Sorry, both guys miss the point. Rushing Urlacher back to face the Colts at home, a team the Bears should be able to beat without their middle linebacker, puts undue emphasis on the timetable Emery praised. The priority should be Urlacher returning when his knee feels stable enough so it requires no more mystery or procedures. Maybe that date is Sept. 9 or Sept. 13 against the Packers. Or maybe it is later. Until then, the Bears focus needs to be on what the Bears have instead of what they don't.

Fill-in Nick Roach can play the position capably but, even more than that, the Bears can miss the middle linebacker less by mixing things up more. Why have I yet to hear in the Urlacher angst any mention of Smith finding schematic ways to compensate defensively Does Smith's defense only work if all four Pro Bowl defensive players stay healthy and on the field When the Bears lost Jay Cutler and Matt Forte to injuries last season, pressure shifted to offensive coordinator Mike Martz to devise game plans that reflected those losses. Why is there more focus on the player than the scheme when a defensive player goes down With or without Urlacher, the dominance of the Bears defense this season depends on the pass rush. We saw an example of that when Israel Idonije forced Robert Griffin III to fumble and Julius Peppers recovered on the 8. The pass rush rarely involves Urlacher.

No coach can manufacture talent to replace a Hall of Fame player. But the best NFL coaches can -- and Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli must -- figure out ways to minimize the loss.

In the end, the Bears could benefit from bringing Urlacher back slowly and overcoming his absence. Before this adversity, Smith's glass wasn't half-full. It was overflowing and a football city risked getting drunk with optimism.

After my first look, I can see why -- and just as easily see the need for it to be cautious. Twitter @DavidHaugh ___ (c)2012 the Chicago Tribune Visit the Chicago Tribune at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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