FB Mike Alstott tries to shake a tackle by Bears rookie Brian Urlacher, who has developed into a top-notch playmaker
Way back in August, with NFL teams still trying to sort out their rosters and starting lineups, we wrote this block on the thoughts of one of our advanced scouts:
"One of the team's pro personnel higher-ups went on a tiring three-city-in-three-days trip this past weekend, attending the Cincinnati game in Atlanta on Friday, the Cleveland game in Chicago on Saturday and the Oakland game in Dallas on Sunday. Without hesitation, this team official tabbed Chicago LB Brian Urlacher as the most impressive rookie he saw. Urlacher, he said, was very athletic and very productive and, though he started at middle linebacker, was moved all over the field by the Bears. Working down the depth chart a bit, the scout was also impressed by backup running backs James Allen of Chicago and Jerald Moore of Oakland."
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Bears during the second week of the regular season, Chicago was still working Urlacher slowly into its system, and the promising rookie had little impact (four tackles) on Tampa Bay's 41-0 victory. However, he has since emerged as perhaps the top playmaker on the Bears' defense, with 108 tackles, six sacks, five tackles for loss, two passes defensed and an interception.
Urlacher had 16 tackles in the Bears' loss at Buffalo last Sunday, and the aforementioned scout was on hand to see his preseason hot pick once again. Obviously, his opinion of Urlacher hasn't changed; in fact, he's impressed with how Chicago has handled the young player's development.
"The Bears did a good job of 'slow-playing' him," said the scout. "They let him develop and learn the system and now he's playing very well."
Urlacher has drawn the most press for his sacks (which usually come on third-down blitzes, we're told), but our scout thinks that hasn't been his most important contribution. "It's not the sacks, it's the tackles," he said. "He's making all the plays. It was just a matter of time until he got comfortable in that defense."
As you can see above, our scout also liked the unheralded James Allen, even if it wasn't obvious at the time that Allen would take the majority of the playing time from former first-round pick Curtis Enis. Allen currently stands 10th in the NFC in rushing with 651 yards, a product of his quickness combined with the Bears' wide-open offense, said our scout.
"He's quicker than he is fast," said the Buc representative. "He's not the type to kill you with a 60-yard run, but he does have the wiggle to get through the line of scrimmage and pick up six or seven pretty consistently. The Bears spread out their offense so much with three-wides and four-wides that they open up some big rushing lanes for him."
At the same time, it may be time for Enis to start sharing the load a little bit. Enis has seen a slight upswing in his action the last two weeks, and he caught the eye of our scout with his trimness. "He looks like his body's back in shape," said the scout. "He looked as thin as he has been in the last two years. I expect to see him a little bit more in the early part of the game (against the Bucs)."
Of course, the Bucs' scout was in Ralph Wilson Stadium to get a look at all of the Bears (that they were playing the Bills, Tampa Bay's next opponent after Chicago, didn't hurt). Here are a few more random thoughts on key Bears players:
Shane Matthews: "He didn't perform particularly well (in Buffalo), but I think that's because he was still shaking off the rust. He's a heady quarterback, very smart, and he knows where to go with the ball."
Olin Kreutz: "Probably their best offensive linemen. He should go to the Pro Bowl. He's physical, nasty, strong…he's just the ultimate tough guy, a warrior."
Marcus Robinson: "It's not his fault that his numbers are down. He's still had very good production this year, but not as good as last year because defenses are playing this offense better than they did last year. They look for the big play when you miss tackles, throwing lots of short stuff…short screens, short crossing patterns, dump-offs."