Work in Sports
Bears hope Urlacher can be another Butkus
Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 06:31 PM
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- Clyde "Bulldog" Turner. Dick Butkus. Otis Wilson. Wilber Marshall. Mike Singletary. And someday, the Chicago Bears hope, Brian Urlacher.
The Chicago Bears took the New Mexico linebacker with the ninth overall pick in the draft Saturday, hoping he'll carry on the team's rich tradition at linebacker.
"That's the best part of being a linebacker in Chicago. All you ever hear about is Singletary and Butkus and how good they were," Urlacher said in a conference call from New Mexico, where he watched the draft. "It's a dream come true. Hopefully, I can carry on the tradition."
Chicago had five more picks in the draft, including three in the second and third rounds.
Despite the team's long line of ferocious linebackers -- Turner, Butkus and Singletary are Hall of Famers -- the Bears haven't had a standout at that spot since Singletary retired in 1992.
Urlacher is only the sixth linebacker the Bears have taken in the first round, and he's already projected as a starter.
"We drafted this guy because we think he's got all kinds of upside and potential," coach Dick Jauron said. "I think we're going to put him in there and let him go."
Urlacher was an All-American safety at New Mexico, where he made 422 tackles despite starting just two years. One of the most versatile players available, he also played tight end and returned kicks.
But at 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds, the Bears will play him at outside linebacker.
"I thought he could be a good safety. I think he'll be a better linebacker," Jauron said. "We drafted this guy because we think he's got all kinds of upsides, all kinds of potential."
And while Urlacher often played two or more positions in the same game at New Mexico, he'll only play linebacker and in the nickel defense package for the Bears.
"Asking him to play [outside] linebacker and the nickel package is a lot to ask a young man," Jauron said. "We'll concentrate on those two areas first and then move from there. At this point, I do not foresee us moving him all over the place."
Despite his size, Urlacher is quick. He was recently timed at 4.67 in the 40-yard dash. He's strong, too. He holds New Mexico's record with a 380-pound power clean, and he also squats 570 pounds.
He's a solid tackler and can shed blockers. He also has pash-rush skills, something the Bears have needed desperately the last few years.
"Because of his toughness, size and strength, I think he's somebody offenses will have to worry about blocking with a back," Jauron said. "That's a big plus for us."
Unlike last year, when they HAD to draft a quarterback, the Bears had three players they wanted -- Urlacher, receiver Plaxico Burress and running back Thomas Jones -- and planned to take whoever was available. They talked to Baltimore and Philadelphia about moving up to make sure they got one of the three, but both teams wanted too much, said Mark Hatley, vice president of player personnel.
Besides, Hatley said, he was confident at least one of the three would still be there at No. 9. When the Baltimore Ravens took Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis with the fifth pick, Hatley said he knew something would work out.
Chicago almost got its choice of two of the three. After the Arizona Cardinals took Jones with the seventh pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers took almost their entire 15 minutes to choose between Burress and Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington. They finally took Burress.
"It would have been a tough pick if both were there. We liked both the players," Hatley said. "We're excited about Brian. He's got a bright future in the NFL. We feel like he's got a chance to be a big impact player for us."