BOURBONNAIS – Bears cornerback Charles Tillman responded quickly when asked what he would miss most without injured linebacker Brian Urlacher on the field.
“His bald head,” Tillman said.
Tillman then shook his head at what he believed to be a nonsense question.
“I don’t know, man,” Tillman said. “The dude’s going to be there. I’ve said it like 32 times. I’ll say it 33 times. He’s going to be there.”
No matter how many times Tillman says so, questions will remain until Urlacher straps on his pads and takes the field in his familiar No. 54 jersey.
The Bears conducted a 21⁄2-hour practice Tuesday without Urlacher, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during a morning procedure. Urlacher was not on the sideline but remained on campus at Olivet Nazarene University as the Bears conducted their second-to-last practice of training camp.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said he expected Urlacher to be ready in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts. He said doctors found no unforeseen damage in Urlacher’s knee, and he did not expect any complications.
“Everything came out the way we wanted it to,” Smith said. “He’s back here right now. We’re still right on schedule, whatever that schedule is.
“Brian had talked about definitely being ready for the regular season. We of course think that [will be the case], and we’ll just see how it goes from here.”
More than seven months have passed since Urlacher injured his knee on a play in the end zone Jan. 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. He did not undergo surgery after the injury, in which he badly sprained his medial and posterior cruciate ligaments, instead relying on rest and rehabilitation as he prepared for training camp.
Smith was asked whether the Bears considered surgery at an earlier date.
“We followed protocol on what we thought we should do at the time, and now we’re here,” Smith said. “Going back to last season doesn’t help an awful lot.
“Right now, Brian got the knee scoped, he’s feeling real good about that, and that’s about all you can do right now – put the knee in the best possible position to be ready for the first game.”
If Bears players were worried about their missing teammate, they hid it well. Linebacker Lance Briggs said he expected Urlacher to anchor the defense when it mattered most, although he acknowledged that the 13-year veteran likely was frustrated with being forced to miss the bulk of the preseason.
“He’s a competitor, and in his heart, he wants to be out on the field playing football with the rest of us,” Briggs said. “It really tears at him that he can’t do that right now.
“But it’s a long season – a very long season – and we have 16 games to get into the playoffs, in order to get ourselves into a position to play in the Super Bowl and win the thing. That’s what we have to keep in perspective, what’s most important.”
In Urlacher’s absence, sixth-year veteran Nick Roach will start at middle linebacker with Briggs at weak-side linebacker and Geno Hayes at strong-side linebacker. Roach has started 45 career games, including a lengthy stint at middle linebacker when Urlacher sustained a season-ending wrist injury in the 2009 season opener.
“Nick’s done well, as good as anyone could do right now with Brian being out,” Briggs said. “He’s played the position before, and he’s comfortable in the position.
“I think from our defensive unit, he gets us all aligned and playing well and he’s very stout and smart. He knows where he needs to be.”
Then again, Roach is not Urlacher. But who is?
“He’s a Hall of Fame player,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “What else is there to say? He’s a great player. But we’ll work with the guys we’ve got right now.”