On the NFL
9:41 PM CDT, September 1, 2012
Brian Urlacher may play on opening day. He may not.
He may run like the Urlacher of old. He may not.
The uncertainty of Urlacher's situation makes the certainty of Lance Briggs' situation all the more comforting.
Briggs answered the bell consistently in training camp, turning down opportunities for days off.
"I love being on the field," Briggs said. "I don't want to miss any of it."
The Bears' appreciation for Briggs was evident when they extended his contract through 2014 in the offseason, giving him another $7 million in guaranteed money. Briggs' appreciation for the Bears is evident by the way he has been approaching his job at 31.
"Lance Briggs never has been into football as much as he is now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Briggs never was close to being a first in, last out guy. He has been reputed to be an athlete who liked to wear the party hat. He often let his weight go in the offseason.
This offseason, he spent four weeks in Raleigh, N.C., to train at North Carolina State. Briggs was following strength coach Corey Edmond from Arizona, where Briggs had worked with him previously.
"His workouts are not easy at all," Briggs said. "They can be punishing. He forces you to work. I love it."
Briggs has been hanging around Halas Hall a bit longer these days. He is paying closer attention to details and taking more pride in the mundane aspects of his job. His focus is sharp. He competes in practice, running out plays like a young guy trying to prove himself.
"Back when I was young, it seemed like there was no end in sight," Briggs said. "When there is an end in sight, you value every day more than before. When I was young, I wanted to get in, practice, get out. Now, I want to get in, enjoy practice, take more from it, more than I did before.
"The reality has hit that you can't play this game forever. I'm not taking anything for granted, that's all. A lot of people take a lot of things for granted, and when it's over there are a lot of things they wish they would have changed. So I'm enjoying every day, every moment."
Time has a funny way of bringing focus to an athlete. Briggs talks about teammates and friends he has seen come and go.
He misses Tommie Harris. Adewale Ogunleye, too. And Anthony Adams. Olin Kreutz, even.
He enjoyed catching up with Rex Grossman when the Bears and Redskins played in the preseason. They came to the Bears in the same 2003 draft class way back when.
How could all those teammates be gone so quickly?
Briggs has been around long enough to start thinking about his legacy.
And it is a pretty impressive one. He has been to seven Pro Bowls in nine seasons. He has led the Bears in tackles four years, including in 2011, and finished second to Urlacher four times.
"It's important how my peers, friends, family and hopefully the fans in Chicago and around America remember me," Briggs said. "I just want to be remembered as someone who loved to play the game."
Briggs still is creating memories. Just because he has been a Bear longer than every player on the team except Patrick Mannelly, Urlacher and Charles Tillman does not necessarily mean he is nearing the end.
Front office men who have studied him say his burst and quickness still are exceptional.
"He is really in-tune to what's going on," Bears center Roberto Garza said. "This was one of the best camps he has had since I've been here (2005). He knew exactly where to be and how to get there. You can tell all his experience makes him at a different level."
The argument can be made that Briggs, who has been overlooked at times while playing next to Urlacher, never has been more important to the Bears defense.
Briggs believes his value will not fluctuate based on Urlacher's situation. But someone will have to fill production and leadership voids if Urlacher can't.
Briggs simply plans to be himself.
"In terms of leadership, I'm still going to be the same guy," he said. "My job is not to be somebody else; it's to be who I am."
Part of that is being a player who is available. He never has missed more than two games in a season.
Probably more than ever, the Bears appreciate that durability.
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