BOURBONNAIS – Seventh-year veteran Chris Spencer might prove to be a capable center for the Bears, but he never will match the leadership skills of his predecessor.
That’s not a knock on Spencer, who started 70 games with the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s a tribute to Olin Kreutz, who led the Bears for the past 13 seasons.
“He was the leader of this team,” said Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who was teammates with Kreutz for the past eight seasons. “Not just the offense, but the entire team.”
The Bears practiced in full pads Monday for the first time since coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo announced that Kreutz would not return as a free agent.
It was the first chance for Bears’ veterans to determine which player could fill the leadership void.
Make that which players. Plural.
“No one is going to be like he was, I’ll tell you that much,” said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, a 12th-year veteran. “There are going to be a bunch out there who are going to have to do it.”
The most obvious choice on the offensive line is 11th-year veteran Roberto Garza, who played alongside Kreutz for each of the past six seasons. Garza continued to fill in as the team’s No. 1 center in practice as the team waited for Spencer, who will be able to practice starting Thursday.
Garza said he was ready to take on more of a leadership role in the huddle.
“I’m the old guy now, you know?” said Garza, 32. “I’ve been here the longest and [I’ve] been around a great leader. Tough to fill his shoes, but you’ve got to step in to the role that’s asked.”
Kreutz was many things during his time with the Bears, but shy was not one of them. He glared at reporters, barked at teammates and screamed at opponents when he thought it was necessary.
Garza’s leadership style likely will not be as brash.
“I’ve always been a leader by example,” Garza said. “I’ve never really been a vocal leader.
“But, obviously, we’ve got to do things the right way and go out there and work hard and try to get better. If we’re not doing that, something’s going to have to be said.”
Others also will have to help police the huddle and the locker room.
Bears running back Matt Forte counted himself and Jay Cutler among those responsible. Forte is entering his fourth season with the Bears, while Cutler is entering his third.
“Jay, he’s been the leader as a quarterback,” Forte said. “He’s going to have to step up and not only coach up the receivers and the running backs, but talk to the offensive line, as well.”
If each of the Bears’ veterans did their part, Urlacher said, the Bears would be fine.
“We’ll be all right,” said Urlacher, one of the team’s defensive co-captains in 2010 along with Julius Peppers. “We’re a veteran team. We have guys who will step up and fill that role.”
Urlacher brushed off a question about the need for a vocal leader.
“That stuff doesn’t really mean that much to me,” Urlacher said. “The rah-rah guys, we’ve never had any guys like that who run around yapping their mouths the whole time.
“We just kind of have guys who go out there and do their jobs. The yapping, what does that do?”
Bears safety Chris Harris yapped on his Twitter page Sunday when he learned that Kreutz would not return.
A day later, Harris said he and his teammates were ready to focus on football.
“At some point in time, we’ve got to get over it,” Harris said. “They pay us to play, not make decisions, so that’s what we do.”