LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It didn't take too long for Brian Urlacher's concerns to disappear. By the end of training camp, they were all gone.
Healthy and rejuvenated, Urlacher is back to playing at a high level for the Bears again after missing almost all of last season with a wrist injury. At 8-3 and with the NFC North lead heading into this week's game at Detroit, Chicago is pushing to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team's Super Bowl run.
"I feel really good," Urlacher said.
And he's backing it up on the field.
He's been credited with 10 or more tackles in three of the past four games and five times in all, not bad for a guy who'd been limited by injuries.
He had been bothered by neck and back problems in recent years. And just when it appeared he was healthy again, he suffered another injury in last season's opener at Green Bay. Only this time, it was a dislocated right wrist.
He was injured tackling Ryan Grant in the first quarter and needed season-ending surgery, spoiling what was shaping up as a promising start.
And then, in a flash, he was finished for the season.
They revamped their coaching staff and made several big additions to the roster.
"I think we're better than that defense at this point, but we're different," Urlacher said.
As important as Peppers has been, the return of a healthy Urlacher can't be overstated. In the land of Singletary and Dick Butkus, Urlacher again is making the case that he at least belongs in the discussion with the Bears' great middle linebackers.
"He's been all over the field making plays, back to his old self," safety Chris Harris said. "He's the leader on this team."
Urlacher said the time off helped, in a strange way. It allowed him to heal, recharge. Even so, when he showed up for training camp, he was a little unsure. He hadn't hit anybody at full speed or in pads since that Green Bay game, but those concerns quickly went away.
"I wasn't worried about my wrist after the first couple days of training camp," Urlacher said. "I felt pretty good about it, and the rest of my body felt great. So I didn't have any issues coming out of training camp."
He praised Smith, who often is criticized for running easy practices. Players argue that schedule helps keep them healthy.
"You're going to get banged up during the season, but for the most part, the way he does practice gives us a chance to maintain our health," Urlacher said. "I started doing different things, also, to try to maintain my health, and it seems to be working for me."
He wouldn't specify what changes he made, but the results are looking awfully familiar.
"What the guy can do, it's amazing," Marinelli said. "We all know what type of player he is. That's obvious. But to see this guy leading a group of men -- how smart, how competitive, how poised he is -- that amazes me. ... Those intangible things are really special."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press