While a 34-year-old linebacker sitting out training camp practices is nothing new it does make fans nervous when that play is so important. Should the Chicago Bears fans worry whether their team can survive without Brian Urlacher?
When free agency runs dry, it's hard for a team to find quality depth behind a superstar. No one can say the Bears have nobody behind Urlacher simply because they haven't had to see anybody for two years. Still the risk is always there. The eight-time Pro Bowler missed the entire 2009 season with a bad wrist injury and badly sprained his knee at the end of last season. That explains why he sat out his third-straight practice at Soldier Field. Then again while some chew their nails nervously, team coaches took advantage of an opportunity to find the best linebacker to replace him should he stay injured. Starting outside linebacker Nick Roach has gotten most of practice reps while promising second-year player Dom DeCicco took the rest. By default, it also allowed free agents like Geno Hayes and Blake Castonzo to get more time with the defense too. The Chicago Bears trust that Brian Urlacher will take care of himself but his age and injury issues bring up the unpleasant reality that he's not staying around for long. Can the team find a more permanent replacement?
Kevin Reddick and Manti Te'o top list of college linebackers
Given Chicago has big Super Bowl hopes, the likelihood of landing a top draft pick isn't great. Still that should not stop GM Phil Emery from planning on filling his roster needs for next season. Most fans and experts will likely press for an offensive linemen to help quarterback Jay Cutler but at the same time Urlacher does become a free agent in 2013. If the team can't work out a deal with him than priorities will shift once the draft rolls around in April. Two big names that will top the board of defenders are Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick. Both play inside like Urlacher and have reputations as smart, athletic players. Te'o has captained the Fighting Irish for two years and led them in tackles. Meanwhile, many expect Reddick to cement his lane to the pros by winning multiple defensive awards for the Tar Heels in their quest for an undefeated season.
Brian Urlacher isn't gone yet but the Bears can only take chances with him for so long. While Nick Roach and Dom DeCicco can back him up for now, talents like Kevin Reddick and Manti Te'o could assume the mantle for when he's gone.