On the NFL
5:29 PM EST, December 8, 2012
When the Bears line up to play the Vikings at the Metrodome, they may be getting a look into the 2013 season.
They will be without Brian Urlacher, who has a hamstring pull. And being without him next season is a possibility.
The 34-year-old linebacker's future with the team is very much up in the air, as his contract will expire in March and there have been no indications of the Bears' intentions.
Replacing Urlacher next year likely would be much more complicated than replacing him for a few games this year. The problem is the options probably are not going to be very appealing.
Let's start with free agency. It's going to be slim pickings at middle linebacker.
There is one established middle linebacker who is coming out of contract: Rey Maualuga of the Bengals. At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, Maualuga has the type of body the Bears would seek.
He has not played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level, but he is pretty productive.
"He's a physical downhill player who is not overly instinctive," one front-office man said. "He has some splash plays but gets a little out of control."
Another intriguing option could be the Ravens' Dannell Ellerbe. He knows what it is like to replace an icon, having stepped into the Ravens' starting lineup when Ray Lewis was injured. And he has performed well.
The 27-year-old never had been a starter before replacing Lewis and has potential.
Rolando McClain of the Raiders is under contract, but he could be cut. The eighth pick of the 2010 draft has more ability than most middle linebackers. Problem is, he has not shown it since his rookie season, and he is considered a locker-room distraction. That's why he may be available. Still, he could be worth a gamble.
The draft could offer two outstanding middle linebacker prospects in Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Alabama's C.J. Mosely, an underclassman who is likely to go pro. Both should be gone in the top dozen or so picks before the Bears likely will be picking.
Given the Bears' multiple needs, trading extra picks to move up is not a likely solution.
A couple of second- or third-round possibilities worth considering are Penn State's Michael Mauti and Oregon's Kiko Alonso.
Mauti's 2012 season ended with a knee injury, and he has had recurring knee problems. But he is a pretty good player. Alonso is an intriguing mix of instincts, motor and suddenness, and he has been productive.
Because of the scarcity of talent at middle linebacker, these players may be drafted higher than their talent would indicate.
All of which may make re-signing Urlacher the most attractive option for the Bears.
Brandon Marshall said last week he expects to carry a bigger load at this time of year.
Perhaps he is thinking about playing quarterback, because that might be the only way he could affect games more.
Marshall has caught 41.9 percent of the Bears' passes this season, according to STATS. It is the highest percentage in the NFL by a ridiculous amount. Next closest player is the Colts' Reggie Wayne, who has caught 31.5 percent of his team's throws.
Marshall has accounted for 48.5 percent of the Bears' receiving yards. This also is the high in the league by a preposterous margin. The next closest player, the Lions' Calvin Johnson, has produced 36.5 percent of his team's receiving yards.
Marshall has 61 catches more than the next closest Bear, Matt Forte. And he has 932 more receiving yards than the next closest teammate, Earl Bennett.
Marshall even ranks fourth in the NFL in percentage of team's total yards at 32.4 percent. Running backs dominate this statistic as they get both rushing and receiving yards. The rest of the top five are all running backs.
Marshall is the reason Jay Cutler has thrown 71 percent of his passes to wide receivers, which is the highest percentage of starting quarterbacks.
Front office chess
The banged-up Bears had to do some roster shuffling this week to compensate for injuries.
Some have assumed that Dom DeCicco was brought back to replace Urlacher, but that really isn't the case. DeCicco was brought back to replace Patrick Trahan on special teams. Trahan lasted only one week with the Bears before being waived with a quadriceps injury.
It helps that DeCicco can play middle linebacker, but Nick Roach will be Urlacher's replacement. And if Roach couldn't go, it's likely veteran Blake Costanzo, who has been practicing all year, would be next in line.
DeCicco was one of the Bears' best special teams players last year and was on track to make the team again this season when he suffered a groin injury in the first exhibition. He had sports hernia surgery and took awhile to recover.
He had workouts for the Lions, Raiders and Patriots but failed to land a contract.
Before the season, the Bears waived DeCicco and gave him an injury settlement that prevented them from re-signing him until the 10th week of the season. They were fortunate he still was available last week.
The team also made a practice squad move, bringing back big running back Harvey Unga. It likely was no coincidence that the team has been uncertain about the status of Michael Bush because of a rib injury.