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posted: 9/7/2012 12:01 AM

Defense will still have to win some games for Bears

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  • Defensive end Israel Idonije, here running down Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III during the preseason, will be a key factor in the pass rush.

      Defensive end Israel Idonije, here running down Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III during the preseason, will be a key factor in the pass rush.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Supercharged offense or not, the Bears still will have to win some games with defense if they plan on making it to the postseason for just the second time in six years.

For the defense to shoulder its share of the load, it needs Brian Urlacher in the middle of the action.

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The eight-time Pro Bowler says he plans to play the entire game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.

That sounds ludicrous for a player who missed the entire preseason and almost all of training camp, if for no other reason than his diminished level of conditioning.

"I'm not up to speed," Urlacher said Thursday. "I know the defense well, but I've got to get my technique down and work on some things. But I'm practicing; that's all that matters to me.

"I'll get it down the more I'm out there, the more reps I see, I'll get better. I'm not as out of shape as I thought I would be, so that's good."

Actually, Urlacher did not practice Thursday, but the occasional day off is part of the plan this season. He is expected to practice Friday.

For maybe the first time since Urlacher's rookie year in 2000, there are questions about whether an opposing offense might try to take advantage of the Bears' middle linebacker.

"If they want to test me," Urlacher said, "then I'll have more chances to make plays."

Defensive end Israel Idonije believes that would be a poor decision by the Colts.

"If anyone who's thinking that Brian is going to be a weak part of the defense, then absolutely, run at him," Idonije said. "The guy is a physical specimen.

"He's worked hard to put himself into a position so he can be on the field. He's one of those guys who are relentless. He's a tough, tough guy.

"If that's something they think they can exploit, by all means they're going to try. Then, at the end of the day, we'll see. We're going to see what happens."

Having Urlacher making tackles sideline to sideline and patrolling the deep middle in Cover 2 is integral to the Bears' defensive success.

But so is getting a better pass rush from Idonije and the other linemen. The Bears' defense was 29th in the NFL in sack percentage last season, an unacceptable effort for a team that features seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.

The only significant addition to the pass rush from last year is first-round pick Shea McClellin. He is expected to contribute in nickel situations at left end with starter Idonije sometimes moving inside to tackle with Henry Melton to get the best pass rushers on the field.

Melton had 7 sacks last season but also had a seven-game stretch in which he had just 1 sack.

Idonije managed just 5 sacks in 2011 but had 2 in the first quarter of the second preseason game and is expected to be more of a presence this year.

Undersized Cheta Ozougwu (6-foot-2, 255 pounds) -- a first-year player who was waived by the Houston Texans -- led the Bears in the preseason with 3 sacks and could be a factor if he's active on Sundays.

Recently re-signed backup tackle Amobi Okoye had 4 sacks last season, and he has the athleticism to take reps at end, too.

But McClellin is expected to be the biggest difference- maker.

"He's definitely a talented kid," Idonije said. "He has tons of ability and just natural quickness and natural ability. He's just going to take it one step at a time and grow his comfort zone as he gets more comfortable with what's going on in the game."

The Bears are hoping McClellin can take some huge strides in a hurry -- at least as a pass rusher.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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