It was inevitable, really. I give the guy credit for lasting as long as he did. Yet Brian Urlacher's most devout fans have to admit that, even prior to his hamstring strain last week, he is no longer the dominant player he once was.
Age and injuries have taken their toll. It's been a decade since he recorded a Bears' record 214 tackles. Back then, he owned the field, sideline to sideline. His speed — given his size — seemed superhuman.
This year, at age 34, the once-dominant middle linebacker has 68 tackles so far and is unlikely to get any more. He is probably finished for this regular season with the hamstring.
He’s a mere mortal now and mortals get hurt — in the NFL, the get hurt a lot.
This injury is to his right leg, possibly the result of relying on that side too much. Remember, his left knee — the one with the stretched posterior cruciate ligament — has troubled him since the first day of training camp. Ultimately, he required arthroscopic surgery to clean out the joint. Practice time prior to the season opener was minimal.
So, was he ever in true game shape?
That interception he returned for a touchdown earlier this year? Urlacher got to the end zone on one leg and sheer willpower, not speed.
While the Bears were seemingly quick to fully disclose the nature and severity of this injury, they actually omitted two key details. The specific muscle — there are three hamstring muscles — and the precise location on the muscle of the strain. Is it low near the knee? In the middle of the muscle? Or high near the buttocks?
If it is the latter, particularly if it is in the tendon which attaches the hamstring muscles to the pelvis, then expect a prolonged recovery. High hamstring strains, involving muscle only, take an average of 16 weeks to heal. Include the tendon and you’re looking at closer to six months.
That’s if they’re not abused during the interim.
The usual suspects for a non-contact strain like Urlacher’s are fatigue and overuse. Makes perfect sense given the state of the left knee.
However, is there more to it?
Urlacher has been plagued by back and neck issues as well. Not so bad as to miss regular season games, but maybe he should have. Bad backs and tight hamstrings go hand-in-hand, one sometimes causing the other and definitely making the other worse if it already existed.
In an extreme case, when the back condition/injury causes pressure on a nerve root, the muscles supplied by that nerve are robbed of power. That in turn makes the muscle more likely to be strained when it attempts a task it is no longer strong enough to perform.
Finally, this isn’t his first time at the hamstring rodeo. He missed significant time with hamstring injuries in 2004, ultimately finishing that season on injured reserve.
Add them all up, throwing in the dislocated wrist of 2009. Multiple injuries to multiple body parts come at a cost. That price may be too high for Urlacher to pay physically for the remainder of this year and for the Bears to pay financially in 2013.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT