The Bears could be without the reigning NFC defensive player of the week and seven-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher when they face the Saints' explosive offense in the raucous, earsplitting Louisiana Superdome on Sunday.
Urlacher left the team Tuesday to be with his family following the death of his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, 51.
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Urlacher issued a statement through the team Wednesday afternoon.
"My mother, Lavoyda, unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas," Urlacher said in the statement. "My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest. This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you."
Hours earlier Urlacher was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance in the Bears' 30-12 victory over Atlanta in the season opener.
The 12-year veteran had 10 tackles, an interception and returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown.
Neither Urlacher nor the Bears have said whether he will be on the field Sunday against a Saints offense that piled up 477 yards and 34 points in an 8-point loss to Green Bay, but it's likely he will play.
Urlacher has started all 16 games in five of the past six seasons, and he has played in all 16 games in nine of his previous 11 seasons.
"I know sometimes when you're going through tough times, the best thing for you to do is to get back to something that you like doing, and football is very important to Brian," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
"He has a big support group here, so I know he's anxious to get back with his teammates. I don't think there's a book on how you go through it. You just kind of take it one day at a time, which we'll do."
Smith can empathize with Urlacher's situation.
"I lost my mother earlier this year," the Bears' coach said. "One of the first guys on the telephone with me was Brian. I'm lucky to be his coach. But our relationship goes a lot further than that.
"Our players, of course, are concerned, and we're giving him family time right now. We're just going to be there to support him in any way that we can and just be there to help him through a tough time.
"Unless you've been through it, there's no way to make it any better than it is at the time, but he'll get through it."
The Bears already are dangerously thin depth-wise at linebacker. Six-year veteran Brian Iwuh and undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco are the only other linebackers on the roster besides the starters.
There isn't a backup linebacker in the league and very few starters who could do what Urlacher does for the Bears.
"You can't replace a guy like that; you can't find a guy like that in the league," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said of Urlacher. "He's the heart and soul of this organization, and we all know he's going through a tough time right now, but we're going to respect his privacy, and when he gets back, we'll be here for him."
In the event that Urlacher doesn't play, strongside linebacker Nick Roach could move to the middle, and Iwuh would start in Roach's usual spot.
Iwuh also could play in the middle, where he started three times for the Jaguars in his four seasons in Jacksonville from 2006-09.
"That would be a tough loss for us," center Roberto Garza said. "He's a great player and means a lot to this team. Stepping on the field without him would be tough for us, but somebody has to step in and get the job done."
The 6-foot, 239-pound Iwuh started in Week 6 last season when weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was injured, and he responded with 12 tackles, including 10 solos against Seattle.
A week later Briggs tried to play but left early, and Iwuh wound up with 16 tackles (12 solos, 2 forced fumbles and 2 tackles for loss that included the first sack of his career).
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