Bears' defense faces tall order in short Jones-Drew
LAKE FOREST – Brian Urlacher typically does not need to stand on his tippy toes.
At 6-foot-4, the Bears’ Pro Bowl linebacker is tall enough to reach the top shelf of a cabinet. He can see a concert without someone’s head blocking his view. He qualifies for any ride at Six Flags Great America without fear of rejection for being vertically challenged.
Yet Sunday, Urlacher will wish he were a little bit taller.
The reason is Maurice Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl running back who is the most exciting player on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones-Drew stands 5-foot-7, which is shorter than each of his 52 teammates and each of the 53 players on the Bears’ active roster.
It’s tough to spot Drew behind the behemoths on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Sometimes, you get lost [trying to find him] behind the line of scrimmage,” Urlacher said Thursday before the Bears practiced beneath overcast skies at Halas Hall. “As a taller guy, sometimes I have to stand up to see where those guys are.”
If the Bears are not careful, Jones-Drew could scoot all the way to the end zone.
No running back was more productive in 2011 than Jones-Drew, who finished the season with a league-leading 1,606 rushing yards and eight touchdowns despite being one of the Jaguars’ only threats on offense. He is seventh this season with 352 rushing yards and will vie for his fifth 100-yard rushing game in the last eight games Sunday against the Bears.
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs has played against Jones-Drew only once before in the NFL. That was Dec. 7, 2008, when Jones-Drew tallied 102 yards from scrimmage (55 rushing, 47 receiving) in a 23-10 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.
What Jones-Drew lacked in height, Briggs said, he made up for in strength with a 210-pound frame.
“He’s a hard guy to take down,” Briggs said. “He’s got great balance. He’s got a thick lower half, so when you try to tackle him, try to get him down, usually a big hit won’t do it. You’ve got to wrap him up. You’ve got to gang tackle him. You’ve got to wrap his legs.”
So far, the Bears have had great success in stopping the run.
The Bears have allowed 67.3 rushing yards a game, which is third best in the NFL behind the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks. On the other hand, the Jaguars have allowed 150.3 rushing yards a game, which is third worst in the league ahead of only the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
During a conference call with reporters at Halas Hall this week, Jones-Drew marveled at the Bears’ defense, which he said seemed to get better as its core players became older. He said he felt comfortable in the offensive system of first year with head coach Mike Mularkey, who was hired in January to replace Jack Del Rio.
Not even a lengthy holdout during training camp proved to be an obstacle for Jones-Drew.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Jones-Drew said. “The whole time I was away, I was training every day, seven days a week, twice a day, two or three times a day, just trying to keep my body in the best situation, so when I did come back, I wouldn’t miss a beat.”
Likewise, the Bears haven’t missed Jones-Drew while studying film of the Jaguars this week.
“He’s low and he’s physical,” Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s got great balance. He bounces off things. But we’ve just got to [use] our speed and get off blocks.”
And if they lose sight of Jones-Drew, keep looking.
He will be down there somewhere.