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updated: 9/10/2011 10:24 PM

Bears say defense getting better with age

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  • Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, 33, says the defense is still playing at a high level despite relying heavily on six 30-somethings.

       Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, 33, says the defense is still playing at a high level despite relying heavily on six 30-somethings.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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More than half of the Bears' starters on defense, including all three of their Pro Bowl players from last season, are 30 or older.

That's an age when the ravages of the game often begin to have a cumulative and negative effect on the body.

But no one inside Halas Hall seems too concerned about age.

There was nothing in the performances last season of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, Charles Tillman or Julius Peppers to indicate any erosion of talent or decline in productivity.

"I can't tell you what that age is, when these guys will start to decline, but I just know that it's not now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Whatever that age is, that magic number, it's not right now. I can't even tell you, for sure, how old Brian Urlacher is, or Julius Peppers.

"We've had players in the past who show you something about their skills (diminishing). They haven't shown that at all -- and I'm talking about all of them -- or we wouldn't have them here. We'd be going in a different direction.

"I'm naive enough maybe to think that they haven't played their best ball yet."

Peppers and Briggs each were voted to their sixth Pro Bowl last season, Urlacher to his seventh. Tillman tied for the team lead in interceptions with 5, tying his career best, and he was third with 101 tackles, the second-highest total of his career.

Adams started all 16 games for just the second time in his career, and the first since 2005. Peppers led all Bears linemen with 51 tackles and tied Idonije for the team lead with 8 sacks.

Peppers also had a ridiculous 23 quarterback pressures. Idonije tied for second on the team with 9.

Urlacher led the Bears with 146 tackles, one year after missing all of the 2009 season with the exception of the first half of the first game.

He also led the team with 11 tackles for loss and 13 pass breakups, and he had 4 sacks, just 1 fewer than he had in the previous four seasons combined.

"They all almost had career years last year," Smith said. "To me, right now, I think they're going to play better this year."

Urlacher knows the window of opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl won't be open forever. So there may be a sense of urgency, but certainly no panic.

"I think that's the case with every team, not just us," Urlacher said. "We want to win now. Our window may be closing a little bit, and we are getting a little bit older, but we're still playing at a pretty high level. For as old as we are, we still do decent, I guess."

They were a lot better than decent last year. As a team the Bears were fourth in points allowed, second in rushing yards allowed and sixth in third-down efficiency.

The fact that the six 30-somethings already have played a total of 51 years in the NFL doesn't make them feel old.

"I don't worry about that," Briggs said. "Age really is just a number. As long as I feel the way I do this year and in past years, I'm going to continue to play at a high level. And I think all the rest of the guys here can play at a high level."

Briggs has missed just four games in eight seasons, and he was second to Urlacher last season in tackles and tackles for loss.

"The guys feel good," Briggs said. "I will say one thing about that window of opportunity: Don't waste the talent and the potential. We have all the potential in the world right now; that's the window. Don't squander it.

"Don't get to the championship game, lose to the Colts (as in Super Bowl 41) and not go back or get a chance to go back years afterward. So cherish this year, cherish every chance you get."

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli insists the "old-timers" are nowhere near the end of the line.

"You play in the present," he said, "and with what we have, it's just getting better every day. We've got that great group of veteran players, and I just think these guys have long futures ahead of them; I really do."

Even a relative youngster like strong safety Chris Harris, who won't turn 30 until next August looks at his older running mates and sees a fountain of youth.

"Lance Briggs, his play is only getting better," Harris said. "Urlacher, he's only getting better. Peanut (Tillman) is playing at his top level.

"With age comes wisdom and maturity. Even if a person happens to have lost a step here and there, they've gained it back with the wisdom that they have."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

Name DOB Age Yr.

LB Brian Urlacher 5-25-1978 33 12th

NT Anthony Adams 6-18-1980 31 9th

LB Lance Briggs 11-12-1980 30 9th

DE Israel Idonije 11-17-1980 30 8th

DE Julius Peppers 1-18-1980 31 10th

CB Charles Tillman 2-23-1981 30 9th

•Follow Bob's Bears reports via Twitter @BobLeGere and check out our Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com.

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