For the first 10 years of his NFL career, weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs lined up next to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in the Bears' defense.
That combination resulted in eight Pro Bowls for Urlacher, seven for Briggs and a defense that was regularly one of the best in the NFL. But Urlacher isn't around anymore, and neither is Nick Roach, the starter on the strong side for most of the past five seasons.
"It's very different," Briggs said Tuesday afternoon after the fifth of 10 organized team activities leading into next month's final minicamp. "I didn't call the plays before, and now I'm calling the plays. I just have a lot of respect (for Urlacher); I've been spoiled for the last 10 years."
But the 32-year-old Briggs says the added responsibility isn't a burden.
"It just means to continue to be me," he said. "I'm just more vocal now."
When training camp opens the last week in July, Briggs' new running mates will be two veteran players, each in their first season with the Bears. Former Bronco D.J. Williams will be in the middle, with ex-Falcon James Anderson on the strong side.
"We have a lot of great players," Briggs said, "so for me, it's just getting guys aligned. Getting them in best position to compete is my job."
Calling signals and getting teammates lined up won't be as difficult as it could be, since new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is running a scheme similar to what Briggs has always excelled in with the Bears.
"It's a blessing that he chose to do that instead of having us change our language and the way we do things," Briggs said. "We were a top-five defense last year (No. 3 in points allowed and No. 5 in yards allowed). In order to get back there, I don't think you change and try something different. You keep doing what you're doing."
Giving the Bears better linebacker depth than they've had in years, will be second-round pick Jon Bostic and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene, who will look to Briggs for leadership.
"These young guys are wide-eyed, flying around, very smart guys," Briggs said. "You'll get to know more about them once we put pads on, but they're soaking it in really fast; picking it up. I'm excited to see what they're going to do."
As he prepares for his 11th season, Briggs hasn't lost him zeal for the game, even in the dog days of the off-season, sweating it out in summer-like weather during another OTA.
"They don't get old," Briggs smiled. "I just get old."
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