Whenever Brian Urlacher asked, he received the same advice: Don't run the 40, the other players would tell him. It's not worth the risk.
Urlacher was in Indianapolis in late February, one of 300 or so college prospects who had been invited to the NFL scouting combine for a few days of inspection by coaches, scouts, general managers and pro personnel directors. Most players in his position, those projected as top 10 draft picks, weren't running at the RCA Dome. They would showcase their speed at a later date, in a personal workout.
Urlacher, however, had a different attitude about this test. He had arrived at the combine a chiseled 6'3�", 258 pounds, nearly 20 pounds more than he weighed for his last college game. He thought the extra muscle would impress the talent evaluators. Instead, all he heard were questions about his speed, as if he had suddenly become Gilbert Brown.
"Everyone asked me all week if I was going to run, and I kept telling them it was up in the air," says Urlacher. "Then teams would look at my weight and say, 'You're 258, can you still run?' I told them I thought I could. I made my decision the night before running. I had nothing to hide."
Urlacher needed only one 40-yard dash to prove that he hadn't lost a step. His 4.59 clocking put an end to all the questions. "You respect that about Brian," says Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache. "He'll compete any time, any place. That showed me a lot."
Long before the combine, Chicago knew plenty about Urlacher's ability. He was an All-America free safety at New Mexico who also played a little wide receiver and returned kicks and punts. His combination of size and athleticism made him an attractive prospect as an NFL linebacker, so much so that the Bears made him the ninth pick in the draft and immediately penciled him in as their starter on the strong side.
"I look for the kid to be a franchise-type player," says Kansas City Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham, who coached Urlacher in the Senior Bowl. "He's going to carry a team on his back some day. Why do I say that? Because of his skills and the type of person he is."
As Chicago went through a minicamp last week in Lake Forest, Ill., Urlacher looked very much like a rookie trying to find his way. "He looked a little off at times," said Bears coach Dick Jauron. "But he's athletic, and that's what we drafted."
"For the most part, I'm lost," Urlacher admitted. "I'm still looking at one thing instead of the whole picture. I just roamed in college. Here everything is much faster, especially being closer to the line of scrimmage. You don't have as much time to react because the linemen are on you so quick."
"He has to learn how to play his position," says Mark Hatley, the Bears' vice president of player personnel. "But he has natural football instincts. The more you watched him play [in college], the more you realized there was nothing he was bad at. Heck, they threw it to him nine times, and he scored six touchdowns. It's a great story: a kid from a little town who can do all these things, but nobody knows about him."