Lovie Smith's Days Seem Numbered in Chicago

By Jimmy Johnson
Brian Urlacher Chicago Bears
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t how Brian Urlacher’s NFL career was supposed to come to a close – at least, not his career with the Chicago Bears.

Urlacher suffered a hamstring injury on the second to last play of the Bears’ 23-20 week 13 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Even the absence of a noticeably older and a much slower Urlacher was felt during Chicago’s recent 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. An Urlacher-less Bears’ defense staggered instantly when Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson busted a 69-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.

The hamstring injury will keep be the Bears’ longtime defensive specialist out for at least two of the final three regular season games, and potentially for the playoffs in a year where he’s fighting for an extension and the chance to further his NFL career – one that might not be with the Bears.

As the Bears try to keep the Green Bay Packers from fully storming the NFC North Sunday at Soldier Field, Lovie Smith will have accept reality, too: He’ll have to coach without the one player who has made his cover-2 defense thrive and a known commodity in the NFL in a game that is just as important for himself as it is the Bears’ captain.

Urlacher hasn’t been on the field as much as the Bears have been accustomed to during his 12 year career. Smith and Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have given the sideline-to-sideline linebacker more rest this season.

The timing of this all is bizarre: Smith loses Urlacher, all while both are fighting to keep their jobs.

But this actually could be a good thing for the Bears – at least long term, but not for Smith and Urlacher.

Lovie Smith Chicago Bears
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The cover-2 is still widely used throughout the NFL. However, the Bears once used the defense that was championed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their base defense. Chicago hasn’t completely abandoned the cover-2, but has called more man-based sets the past few season as Urlacher’s once back-peddling speed has gone down a few notches.

Under half of the 31 other NFL teams use a 3-4 – not like the Bears who use a 4-3 – as their defensive set. Organizations are targeting stand-up ends that play the outside linebacker position; better known as a Tweener.

Phil Emery – the Bears’ first-year general manager – picked Shea McClellin with his first selection as the team’s talent evaluator. It caught the Chicago, national and even other NFL teams off guard since McClellin attributes fit him more as a player who can stand and rush the passer with his speed in a 3-4.

It might have been a prelude to Emery seeing a change in the NFL – and the Bears. Prior to hiring Emery, Ted Phillips – the Bears President and CEO – had two stipulations for the next general manager: Smith must be the GM’s coach for the 2012 season. But, once the season concluded, it would be up that respective general manager whether or not he wanted to give Smith an extension.

There shouldn’t be any emotional conflict here for Emery when debating to extend Urlacher and Smith. As much as Virginia McCaskey – the Bears’ Principal Owner – adores Smith and Urlacher, Emery needs to make a football decision.

He needs to decide whether or not he wants to draft players that fit into Smith’s scheme, or if he wants to go a different route. Do you keep drafting for a scheme that Smith has stated multiple times he won’t change as long as he’s the head coach? Or do you start from scratch, trade away older players and stockpile draft picks for another run in several years and become more of an offensive orientated team?

A missed playoff appearance will cement Smith’s fate; there’s no way Emery – or any other NFL executive – would bring a coach back who has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.


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