Notebook: Urlacher, left tackles and more

News, notes and quotes from Halas Hall this week, including the ongoing saga of Brian Urlacher's knee, when the coaches will decide the left tackle position, depth at safety and much more.

It was reported this week that Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher went to Germany before training camp to seek an alternative treatment for his ailing left knee, before ultimately having it scoped less than two weeks ago. It was also reported that the scope was not the first surgery and that he had at least one other procedure on the knee this offseason.

Urlacher wasn't in the mood to talk when asked about the rumors yesterday.

"It doesn't matter what I did or haven't done," he said. "This is where we're at now, so that's all that matters."

When asked if he went to Germany, Urlacher replied: "I went to Europe last year. We played in London. So I was definitely in Europe last year."

Coach Lovie Smith also didn't feel the topic worthy of discussion.

"Once you come up with someone that says this happened, then I can respond to it," said Smith. "We've already responded to all of that. I don't see what else we need to talk about."

When asked if the story was true, Smith replied: "You tell me. I've told you all that I'm going to do as far as talking about it. I should've made that perfectly clear."

Both are correct, this is a non-story, on a topic that has already been beaten to death. Smith and Urlacher have said consistently all offseason he'll be ready to go come Week 1. That's all that matters at this point. There are 89 other players on the current roster. Move on.

"Through the year, we're not going to respond to every article or every person that comes out there and says something," said Smith. "If we have information, we'll give it to you. From there, I think you can understand on things that we don't want to talk about. We don't talk about injuries in general, so I'm not going to go over everything that's been happening since then except for to tell you he's here right now, he's getting better, and we're expecting him to play the first game."

Left tackle battle continues

The competition between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams may not be decided after tomorrow's third preseason game against the New York Giants.

"We'll know more about it this week but as far as it ending, no," Smith said yesterday. "We'll go right up until the last preseason game, the last practice, then we'll make a decision. You learn a little bit more everyday you practice about the guys.

"We haven't finalized anything just yet, but I think the guys are telling us each week, every day in practice, a little bit more about where you should be on the football team."

During the second preseason game, coordinator Mike Tice rotated both players equally into the fourth quarter. He said both Webb and Williams graded well.

"There was nothing in the pass game I didn't like. I thought pass-protection wise, we were very good," Tice said. "So, tackle-wise, there was not a lot to beat up."

Chicago's front five will face another tough test this week in New York, as the Giants have arguably the best defensive line in the NFL.

"You want to go out there and play the best because it calluses you. It makes you tough, not only physically but mentally, and now you really get a chance to evaluate your players and see where you're at," said Tice. "You want to see [the tackles] against some real large, athletic, strong defensive ends and then see where we're at.

"Let's face it, this is going to be the week. We'll all know when we watch the game."

Rachal vs. Spencer

Playing right guard last year, Chris Spencer had a very strong season. He was moved to left guard to start this offseason, a position where he has never before played. During the first preseason game, Spencer struggled mightily. He graded better in the second game but that didn't stop Tice from inserting Chilo Rachal in his place.

"When Chris Williams went in, Chilo went in with him," Tic said. "They went in tandem, so we had two guys that are mostly running with the twos working together. And we had two guys mostly working with the ones — Spencer and Webb — running together. Spencer bounced back this week but he wasn't stellar in the opener."

Rachal, signed this offseason after spending four years with the San Francisco 49ers, steadily improved during training camp and looked good with the first team on Saturday night.

"I can always get better in some areas, but I feel I played pretty aggressive, strong," said Rachal. "That's what I critique my game after is being a mauler. But like I said, there's always room for improvement.

"I'm always ready. When my number's called, I go out and help my team the best way I can. That's why I prepare hard every day. I work, so in the event that they do need me, I can step right in and won't miss a beat."

Tice said Rachal brings the right intensity to the position.

"He had a little setback and missed a few days of practice, but I felt in the game he picked up where he left off before he had the little setback," said Tice. "I was very pleased with his play. I was also pleased with Spencer's play this week. We'll see this week. We're playing some real men this week. We'll see how it goes."

Across the front five, it appears jobs will be won and lost based on tomorrow's game against the Giants.

"We just want to make sure we give everybody an opportunity," Tice said. "And at the end of the day make sure we put the right five guys in there to go out and challenge Indianapolis."

Safety carousel continues to spin

For Bears fans, it's no surprise to see the safety position shuffled on a regular basis. So it is this offseason, with injuries felling both Chris Conte (shoulder) and Brandon Hardin (neck).

Conte said he doesn't plan on missing any regular season games, although he'll likely be shut down for the remainder of the preseason.

"It's a day-to-day thing. As long as I have range-of-motion and strength, I should be good," said Conte. "They haven't given me any exact day."

It was originally reported as a shoulder stinger but Conte said it was actually a bit more serious.

"I just hit him, the shoulder came out of place and got it back in there and was fine after that."

He's never before had his shoulder pop out of place.

"First time. Looks like I'll be all right, so it's not a huge deal."

With Hardin out, Major Wright will move from strong safety to free safety. Shifting positions is nothing new to Wright, whom last year started eight games at strong and three at free.

"Sure there's differences [in the two positions] but that's an opportunity to learn more about the game of football," said defensive backs coach Jon Hoke. "I think that makes you a more well-rounded football player. The more knowledge any of us have, especially in football, the better football player you should be."

Filling in at strong safety will be five-year veteran Craig Steltz, who started five games last season at the position.

"Craig is steady," Hoke said. "You know what you're going to get. He's instinctive. He's smart. He's going to be in the right position. He makes plays for us. He's had a very good training camp."

Grading the offense

Chicago's offensive coaches and players have talked a lot this offseason about being explosive. It's been the word du jour during training camp and the preseason.

Tice said, against the Redskins, the passing attack met his expectations in explosiveness.

"I didn't think we were going to be that explosive in the run game, but we set ourselves a goal for explosive plays, and we went out and got that in the passing game."

Devin Hester said the goal will be the same tomorrow night.

"We always talk about the team that comes out with the most explosive plays is probably going to win the ballgame, so our range is between eight and 10," Hester said. "Eight and 10 explosive plays and we've got a great chance of winning the ballgame."

With Brandon Marshall looking like the real deal, Alshon Jeffery progressing rapidly and Earl Bennett being steady in the slot, Hester predicts a lot of big plays this season.

"Yeah, it's kind of scary. Once we get rolling, building that fear into opponents when all four or five of us out there at one time, it's going to be dangerous and scary out there."

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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