LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Nov. 8, 2006) -- Brian Urlacher grabbed something from his locker and headed straight to the weight room Nov. 8. After practice, he bolted inside.
The Chicago Bears' star middle linebacker had no trouble avoiding reporters, but will he make it onto the field Nov. 12 against the New York Giants?
Coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher sat out practice with a sprained left big toe and was "feeling a lot better today," but did not reveal much else.
Did Urlacher run on the side or do anything to test his foot?
"He did not practice today," Smith said.
Will Urlacher practice on Nov. 9?
"I hope he can," Smith said with a smile.
Urlacher was hurt in a pile after making a tackle with just over a minute left in last week's 31-13 loss to Miami. An MRI exam revealed no major injury, which was a relief to the Bears (7-1), but the situation did raise a question.
Why was Urlacher in the game?
"Because he's one of our defensive players, and the rest of our players were out there at the end of the game," said Smith, who gave "no thought at all" to removing Urlacher. "We had our football team out on the field. He will be out there at the end of the game in other games, also."
That Urlacher did not address reporters at Halas Hall was no surprise; he usually speaks on Thursday. But the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year did tell the Fox Sports Web site on Nov. 6 he hopes to play against the Giants.
"If it's up to me, I will. They told me it all depends on how much pain I can take. I can deal with that," Urlacher said.
If Urlacher can't play, backup Rod Wilson might start. Or, Hunter Hillenmeyer could move to middle linebacker.
The Bears lost the heart of their secondary when safety Mike Brown suffered foot ligament damage in a pile against Arizona on Oct. 16. He's out for the season.
But if Brown is the heart of the defensive backfield, Urlacher is the face of the franchise and soul of the team. And the injury comes at a terrible time for a Bears squad coming off its first loss and its second poor performance in three games.
Urlacher led Chicago from a 20-point second-half deficit to a one-point victory at Arizona, and was credited with 16 tackles against the Dolphins following a video review. Now, they begin a three-week stretch of games at the NFC East-leading Giants, New York Jets and AFC East leader New England with their leader questionable.
"I think there are a lot of aspects of his play that stand out," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team is anything but a picture of health. "He is obviously the defensively leader. He is a guy who enjoys playing the game, he organizes it with any kind of formation motion. ... He is physical, he is a downhill player. He can run."
The Giants (6-2) have won five in a row, but they've lost players at an alarming rate lately.
The latest is their all-time leading receiver, Amani Toomer, who has a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will undergo surgery. They lost linebacker LaVar Arrington for the season to an Achilles' tendon injury against Dallas on Oct. 23, and Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan is expected to miss two to eight weeks with a sprained right foot. All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip), cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) and linebacker Brandon Short (quad) have missed time in recent weeks.
"This time of the season, teams have a lot of injuries," Smith said. "They may be hurting a little bit, but I don't think they're hurting a lot."
Before Urlacher went down, Chicago lost its primary deep receiving threat when Bernard Berrian suffered bruised ribs on the first offensive series against the Dolphins. Averaging 18.3 yards per catch, he is listed as doubtful.
The Bears were unable to stretch the defense after Berrian left. With Rex Grossman on the run and making poor decisions, and the ground game stuck again, it added up to a long afternoon.
But while Berrian recovers, another long receiving threat, Mark Bradley, is poised to return from a high ankle sprain. Second on the team as a rookie last year at 12.8 yards per reception before tearing his right ACL in the seventh game, Bradley was inactive for the season opener and caught one pass against Detroit in Week 2. He was available the next week, but inactive the past five.