Missing preseason can help or hinder

It benefited Jaguars' Jones-Drew but affected timing of Bears' Urlacher

Missing training camp and the preseason had different consequences for the face of the Bears and the face of the Jaguars.

For Maurice Jones-Drew, who sat out in a contract dispute, missing time was a benefit.

"I might be a little fresher, not taking those hits," said Jones-Drew, who had more rushing yards in his first three games than ever before in his career. "This is the fastest start I've ever had in running the ball. That's a big deal."

For Brian Urlacher, who sat out because of a knee injury, missing time was a detriment.

"I wanted to be out there," he said. "I felt I was behind, honestly."

What hurt Urlacher most was not going through his reads on a daily basis. It caused hesitation in his play.

"I was a little sloppy in the beginning," he said. "But I feel like I am getting better every week. I still do the same stuff I always have — there still are missed tackles. But now I'm putting myself in position to make those plays, which is a good thing."

Urlacher said he has made considerable strides in four weeks, but he also said he is definitely not all the way back.

Mentally, he is getting there. Physically, he estimates he is at 90 percent.

Scouts say Urlacher's speed in a straight line has not diminished. But he looks a little slower when he has to plant and redirect.

"Some people said it took them a full year to come back from this injury full speed, 100 percent," he said. "I'm further along than most people thought I would be. I keep feeling better every week."

To preserve Urlacher and help him along, Bears coach Lovie Smith decided to give him Thursdays off from practice. So Urlacher has taken up swimming on those days.

When he started out, he was swimming eight laps. Now he's up to 20. He said it probably takes him 15 or 20 minutes to complete 20 laps, but it definitely has helped his conditioning.

"It has been huge for me," he said. "I always liked swimming and it kicks my ass."

Urlacher also has concentrated on strengthening his left quadriceps muscle through weight training. He lifted all offseason in an attempt to build muscle around his damaged knee.

At 34 and coming off an injury, Urlacher might not be all he once was. But he hasn't stopped coming. And he hasn't stopped making progress.

Numbers gamesTakeaway Tillman

Charles Tillman, who had an interception Monday night, has been the best Bears defender at getting the ball away from the opponent in recent history — by a wide margin.

Between interceptions (31) and forced fumbles (30), Tillman has taken the ball away from an opponent 61 times in his 10-year career. That is an eye-popping average of one every 2.1 games.

The next closest Bears defender — Gary Fencik — is 16 behind Tillman. Fencik is credited with only seven forced fumbles but he probably had more than that.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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