By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) Thursday games are one of the worst things to happen to the NFL.
The NFLPA hates them. Ask the rank and file how they feel about it and you’ll get a glare. Most players don’t feel like they’ve recovered from the last game until the next Wednesday.
I bring this up because the Bears and Packers are the league’s guinea pigs for starting Thursday games in Week 2. So perhaps it makes sense for the Bears to target that game at Green Bay for a Brian Urlacher return instead of opening day.
It’s possible that Urlacher will be ready to go in 25 days. He’s a tough guy, fast healer and committed to the rehab process, but it might be better to hold him back. After arthroscopic surgery, the usual recovery time is about six weeks and that’s if there are no setbacks. Holding Urlacher out of the first game of the season would give him almost an extra week to condition, heal up and continue treatment. He could even go through the practices as part of the process to see where he is, with the bonus of not putting him in danger vs. Indy.
There are no gimmes in the NFL. The league is predicated on parity. It’s very possible to go from a bum team in your division to the playoffs and vice-versa. For example, you have last year’s 49ers team or the reverse, Tampa’s 2011 free-fall. Looking at the shambles that the Colts are in, it’s hard to make a case for them being this year’s turnaround team, even with Andrew Luck under center. A rookie quarterback in his first NFL game on the road might be ripe for the picking. Even with Nick Roach at middle linebacker.
The pounding that players take in a game has been described like being in multiple car crashes. Urlacher himself is always on the lookout for offensive players to cut his legs out from under him and you can bet that left leg will have a big target on it. The amount of mess that the linebacker spot has to discard from play to play is huge. Why put him at risk against a team that the Bears should beat easily?
The quick turn around is what’s worrisome about him returning for the opener. If the Bears had a full week to recover before going to Lambeau, it would make all the sense in the world to have Urlacher out there for Indy, but they don’t. Having him play his first game on a Thursday would give him nine days on the back end to recover for the next game against the Rams.
The team of course wants to get off to a good start, but the game in Green Bay is more important. Not because of the rivalry, but because head-to-head and divisional record rank above common opponents in playoff tie breakers.
The Bears defense has done one of the better jobs of holding Aaron Rodgers in check over the last few seasons. It’s hasn’t stopped the Packers, but the Bears have effectively slowed them down, overall (I know Christmas night wasn’t fun for anyone). The Bears have used a lot of Cover-2 against the Packers and considering the passing game of Green Bay, Urlacher at 100 percent (or as close as he can get) is essential.
I’m all for the the Bears keeping the carrot of the Indy game out there for Urlacher. The rehabilitation process is rough and goal-setting is a big part of keeping a player engaged. The drawback to sitting Urlacher in the opener is that his first game-action would be against one of the highest powered offenses in the league. But weigh that against a rushed-rehab, collapsed recovery time and perhaps having a healthier Urlacher for the rest of the season.
Sitting him against Indy may make sense.
For more Bears coverage from Laurence Holmes, follow him on Twitter at @LaurenceWHolmes. Listen to his show weeknights from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. on 670 The Score & 670TheScore.com.