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NFC North: Urlacher follows in tradition of great Bears LBs

Leaders come in all types. Some are quiet, some flamboyant, some spiritual, some charismatic. But in the NFL, they all have one thing in common: They are the guys their teammates follow in tough times and rally behind, the guys setting the tone at practice, the first ones there, the last ones to leave. They're the ones who have no fear of game deficits or the two-minute warning, the ones players turn to for direction in trying to achieve the ultimate team goal -- winning on Sundays. This week, identifies the squad leaders of each team.

The NFC North boasts some of the most high-profile quarterbacks in the NFL -- Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, and Brett Favre. The position calls for leadership more than any other position, but only one of those players is considered by people close to the respective franchises to be the most respected leader on his team.

Let's find out who it is:

NFC North squad leaders

Bears: MLB Brian Urlacher

A lot of the roster has changed, and Cutler was brought in last season in a blockbuster trade to add some life to the Bears, but the pillar of the team remains the same as it has for 11 seasons: Urlacher.

It's almost tradition in Chicago for the middle linebacker to be the focal point -- Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Urlacher. Those players generated respect by fear, with opponents and in their locker room. Urlacher isn't quite the in-house mad man those other two were, but he doesn't let much slide.

If it does, he's backed up by veteran center Olin Kruetz, another tough hombre.

What has kept Urlacher from anyone else usurping his leadership has been his consistency and his presence. He only played in one game last season because of a wrist injury, and despite under-appreciated linebacker Lance Briggs, the defense lost its swagger. Now he's back and so is the Bears' defense.

Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is seemingly a laid-back California dude known to sport a mountain man look from time to time. Appearances aside, he's shown the drive, work ethic and mental toughness to have his teammates follow him. It's what every team wants out of its quarterback.

The Packers are a team in which leaders line up on both sides of the ball, and cornerback Charles Woodson has command of the defense. But upstart Clay Matthews has gained traction as a leader because of his relentless play, how he practices and his production.

Even so, Rodgers seized the entire locker room with the professional manner in which he handled Favre's departure after the 2007 season, when he had the misfortune of being the guy who replaced The Legend. Rodgers did so with grace, humility, but with a strong backbone that wouldn't allow him to buckle under the public ire. He also performed and threw for more than 9,450 yards in his first two seasons as the starter and got the Packers to the playoffs last year and has put them in position to contend for postseason play again this year.

Vikings: DT Pat Williams

The 38-year-old has a rocking chair at his locker and the ear of his teammates. Though Favre, E.J. Henderson and Steve Hutchison are guys players look to, they aren't as outspoken as Williams (when he needs to be) and maybe not as easily approachable.

Williams is in his 14th season, which could very well be his last. He's been one of the most productive 4-3 nose tackles in recent history and helped make the Vikings one of the top defenses over the past few seasons. Along with fellow defensive tackle Kevin Williams, they've formed the formidable "Williams Wall."

Williams' low-key public persona works well in a locker room full of dynamic characters. Right now, it will take him and the rest of those players to help lift the Vikings out of a potential crisis that has coach Brad Childress' job at stake.

It's times like these when character is revealed. If Williams can help lead his teammates to turn around their season, his impact might be greater than it's been in a while.

Lions: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch

Coach Jim Schwartz knew his young team needed a veteran leader who not only would hold players accountable, but who was such a maniacal worker and fighter that his authority would not be challenged. So he went out and signed Vanden Bosch, a free agent Schwartz coached for years in Tennessee.

Vanden Bosch was elected team captain shortly after his arrival, even though he was new and there was doubt if he could still be productive as he once was after nine seasons. Vanden Bosch, 31, has delivered in every way imaginable, posting 36 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in just seven games.

He's also taken Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, tackle Ndamukong Suh, and accelerated his progress. Suh, a tough guy on and off the field like Vanden Bosch, has picked up on cues and followed the veteran's work ethic.

Detroit is on the uptick in a lot of ways, and part of the credit will be given to Vanden Bosch, who has done everything that has been asked.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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