ORLANDO – A "legends captain" for the NFC at the Pro Bowl, Bears Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher shared his thoughts on his former team's resurgence, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Bears who are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration and more.
With the Bears winning the NFC North and having an NFL-high eight players named to the Pro Bowl, is it fair to say that your former team is back?
"I think that's very fair to say. I don't see this trend changing as long as they keep winning. They've got good players. They should be here. I think the league's taken notice of how good the players are there as well because it takes a lot of guys to vote for you to get here."
What are your thoughts on the Bears' resurgent 12-4 season?
"[It was] a great season. It was so fun to watch. Every time I talk about that I want to talk about how much fun they were to watch. They won games different ways. Sometimes they played great defense. Sometimes they scored a lot of points. Special teams, however it was. But they were fun to watch either way. I know it was a disappointing end; nobody wants to lose their first playoff game. But they were a lot of fun to watch. Every game was a blast."
What impressed you most about the Bears defense?
"Takeaways. The picks. The fumbles. The sacks. And not just that, but they played hard. They got to the football, and that's the only way you get takeaways in my opinion is to run to the football, get the tips, get all the balls that are on the ground—and they pretty much did that. They played hard. But the takeaways, man, that's how you win games. I don't care how many yards you get. Takeaways, third downs and red zone, that's what you care about."
Did the way the defense played remind you of the good old days with Mike Brown and Charles Tillman?
"Yeah. I mean, Eddie Jackson is Johnny on the spot. That guy is always around the ball. Kyle [Fuller] had a great season picking the ball off. You could talk all day about the d-line, the linebackers as well."
What were your impressions of rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith?
"[He's] a good football player. He had a good season. He's just going to get better and better as well. You look at the guys playing in front him, they're going to help. But he's athletic. He runs. That pick he had in the playoff game was awesome. He gets it pass coverage-wise as well. I've never met him, but he seems like a really nice kid. Good head on his shoulders. And [Danny] Trevathan's the same way. Those dudes, they played football. They get to the ball."
Have you been getting to know the Bears players at the Pro Bowl?
"It's been fun. Kyle Fuller, I've known pretty well. The other guys, they're all first-time Pro Bowlers. It's amazing to have seven guys here and they're all in their first times. It's just awesome, good to be around them. I'm a fan of them. It's fun to be in a different place now looking back and kind of watching these guys and being fans of theirs. It's amazing to see this many guys here."
What are your thoughts on Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky?
"Beyond the way he plays, I love the way he handles himself. You watch his interviews and when they win, who does he give credit to? Everybody else. When they lose? He takes the heat. That's a leader right there. Being a quarterback, naturally you're a leader of the team. That's the way it's going to be, especially if you're a good one. He takes that on, I think puts it on his shoulders. He threw the ball great this year. His running ability is pretty damn good as well. But I think with him and [coach Matt] Nagy together, they're just going to keep getting better and better. It's going to be a fun combination to watch."
Has it sunk in yet that you were inducted into the Hall of Fame?
"Here's when it sinks in, with stuff like this. All the guys go, 'Congratulations, great speech.' That's where it sinks in for me. When I'm in NFL circles and stuff is when it really hits me. I guess you don't realize how many people watch that stuff until people come up and tell you, 'Great speech,' or something like that. That's when it hits me the most at stuff like this."
What do you think about Akiem Hicks saying that he used to play as you on the Madden video game?
"That just tells me how old I am. It's funny because if I had to be someone on defense, I'd be Akiem Hicks. That dude just wrecks shop. You know what's fun? Watching them in practice, so many of these guys—I'm talking about the Bears players—would fit in with our team because their personalities are great, they have fun. They take it serious—don't get me wrong—but they all are having a good time, Akiem especially would fit in with our defense because he has a great time."
You changed defensive coordinators during your career like the Bears are doing this year with Chuck Pagano replacing Vic Fangio. What is the toughest adjustment?
"The hardest thing is terminology. That's the only thing because each coordinator has his own terminology. The scheme won't change—it's a 3-4—but the terminology is going to be the hardest thing to figure out right away. It's the same call, but it's a different term. They change the terminology and it's a different voice calling it. Now it's coach Pagano instead of coach Fangio."
Who do you think should be the next Bears player in the Hall of Fame?
"I'm so biased. But if you put Charles [Tillman's] numbers up and didn't see the name, you'd say this dude should be in the Hall of Fame. He had [only] two Pro Bowls, but the Pro Bowl doesn't matter to me. That shouldn't dictate if you get in the Hall of Fame or not. Your numbers and how you played should dictate that. Lance [Briggs], the same way, you look at his numbers and Lance has the Pro Bowls to boot though. [Julius Peppers] is going to have 200 sacks when he's done. I don't see how you keep Devin Hester out of the Hall of Fame. It makes no sense to me how that's even a question. Olin Kreutz, talk about Pro Bowls; he's got them. If that's your baseline, he's got them. He was good for 14 years or however long it was. I'm so biased with all these guys because I think they should all be in, especially now after seeing some of the candidates and how this stuff gets voted on. I feel our guys have as strong cases as anybody."
How excited are you about the Bears' future?
"It's fun watching them. I look forward to watching them play now. I'm like, 'What time do they play? What channel?' My wife and I look for their games now. I couldn't always say that in the past couple years and now just the whole excitement with coach Nagy and the players we have, they're fun to watch all the way around. The fan in me is excited about the future."