ALL GAMES COUNT, PLAY HIM VERSUS THE COLTS
Each NFL player must be medically cleared by his respective team in order to participate in practice or a game.
So let's operate under the assumption that Brian Urlacher -- who sprained ligaments in his left knee in last season's finale and underwent at least one surgical procedure -- is medically cleared by the Bears' medical staff to return to action Week 1 against Indianapolis, and Urlacher tells head coach Lovie Smith he badly wants to play.
If that scenario presents itself and Urlacher is able to practice the week leading up to the regular-season opener -- and Smith said Tuesday that's the plan -- Smith should allow Urlacher on the field Sept. 9 versus the Colts.
Granted, it's highly unusual for a player who missed the entire offseason and nearly the entire preseason to be active for the start of the regular season. But Urlacher isn't an ordinary player. Even at 34, the eight-time Pro Bowler knows exactly how he must feel physically in order to take the field and perform at an acceptable level. Urlacher can draw from the experience of making 175 career starts (including postseason) to determine whether his presence at Soldier Field would help or hurt the team.
The point is, if the medical staff signs off and Urlacher feels up to it, the Bears would benefit from having No. 54 in the middle. There are no gimmes in the NFL. Even though the Colts are rebuilding with a rookie quarterback, it's not like they're going to roll over for the Bears. Every game counts. If the Bears want to be a serious playoff contender they must defeat teams such as Indianapolis, especially at home. And the Bears are at their best with Urlacher at middle linebacker.
For all the things that are debatable; that's a no-brainer.
If the doctors prohibit Urlacher from playing, then there is no debate to be had. But if the middle linebacker gets the green light, the Bears should turn him loose.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
WHY RISK INJURY AGAINST COLTS?
I'm typically one not to argue about caution when it comes to professional athletes playing their sport. If you're healthy, you play; if you aren't, you don't. Who am I to tell a finely tuned athlete when or when not to play? But with Brian Urlacher and his mysterious knee, in this election season, you can call me a flip-flopper.
The Bears' defense can't excel without Urlacher all season, but for one game against a rebuilding team, it'll be fine. Given that Urlacher hasn't practiced all month (he sat out Aug. 1 practice and was reportedly "limited" on Aug. 2, and had surgery Aug. 14), it seems a little silly to have him start practicing next week, play Sunday and then play again on short rest Thursday.
Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters Tuesday that Urlacher will practice next week with the intention of playing in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts. And as we know, NFL coaches always tell the truth and never try to alter it for strategic purposes.
I'll be surprised if Urlacher is on the field trying to fool rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. It's not because he can't do it.
I have no doubt Urlacher can play past soreness, pain and irritation, even as he loses a half-step with a knee brace, and it's obvious his practice time is going to be limited. But every player needs some preparation to get ready for a long season, and Urlacher's offseason was limited despite a week of practice. The conventional wisdom on an Urlacher type of veteran is he can turn it on at any time, especially when he's so very comfortable with his defense.
But putting out a limited Urlacher, still trying to get into a rhythm, seems foolish considering the long road ahead of him. Add to that, the Green Bay Packers are waiting the following Thursday at Lambeau Field, and well, we know that Smith wisely puts a Packers game above all else.
So take an extra week of practice to ease into your return, Brian. We'll be waiting.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.