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Bears Thu Aug 16 2012

Bears' Success Hinges on Health of Urlacher, Peppers

GB bears icon.pngSome of my friends call me a pessimist when it comes to sports. I always correct them, saying I'm a realist that doesn't buy into the rah-rah crap everyone else spews. I try to look at the aspects of the game without the rose-colored glasses of hope that most fans employ, mainly so I don't feel as let down when plans go off the script (this is sports, after all). Let's agree on this -- the glass, neither half empty nor half full, has something in it.

Why did I explain that to you? Simple -- I don't want you to feel like I'm blowing smoke where the sun doesn't shine when I say this: the Chicago Bears are Super Bowl contenders. But that statement comes with a caveat as well: only if Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers are healthy all season.

The Bears were a team to be reckoned with in 2011. Despite an offensive line that could barely be defined as patchwork to go along with a slew of receivers with an array of deficiencies, the team was in contention before injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte ended hope of a playoff run.

Less than a year later, the receiving corps could conceivably be one of the team's strongest units with the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Backups at quarterback (Jason Campbell) and running back (Michael Bush) mean the Bears could handle a short term injury to Cutler or Forte. And the offensive line, well, they're still a work in progress, but a change in play-calling philosophy should at least give them some cover.

But for Peppers and Urlacher, a February trip to New Orleans rides almost solely on the weary bones and muscles that hold them together.

That's why news of Urlacher getting his knee scoped to clean up tissue is terrifying. At 34, he's no spring chicken, and he's never had a serious knee injury before the one he suffered in Week 17 against Minnesota. He didn't have any surgery, didn't partake in any offseason workouts, yet still felt soreness and had swelling the first time he heated things up in Bourbonnais.

Urlacher claims that he'll be ready to go for the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, but the team shouldn't be in a rush to meet that arbitrary deadline. They should try to be gunning for a Week 2 visit to Green Bay.

His absence will most certainly be felt. Nick Roach has nowhere near the instincts or physical talents that Urlacher has in the run game and playing the seam in the Cover 2. The Bears have finished in the bottom half of the NFL in points allowed just one time since 2004, and it was in Urlacher's broken wrist season of 2009. His presence is paramount.

The only other Bears defender whose importance is directly tied to wins and losses is Peppers. The pressure he puts on opposing quarterbacks along with the double teams he forces make life much easier for his much less talented line-mates. He's missed just four games since his rookie year in 2002, so the risk of injury is lower than most, but at 32 years old, the amount of games might catch up to him sooner rather than later.

Don't let anyone tell you any different. The 2012 Bears are the real deal. But if 54 or 90 are lying on the ground with trainers surrounding them, you can kiss the season goodbye.

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