Still looking for extension, Urlacher attends voluntary workout

On a Wednesday when the Chicago Bears were down two running backs, they had an additional linebacker for voluntary practices at Halas Hall.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher showed up for voluntary workouts with the defense for the first time this off-season as the team's offense tried to work around losing running back Cedric Benson, who was cut, and veteran back Adrian Peterson, who had an emergency appendectomy on Monday.

"Any time you are out practicing football it is a big plus to have Brian Urlacher out here," Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "It was fun to see him out here. He picked up right where he left off from the minicamp."

Urlacher had attended mandatory three-day minicamp May 30-June 1 but had skipped voluntary drills and the team conditioning program due to dissatisfaction with his current $56 million contract.

Bill Johnson, Urlacher's agent, has been involved in talks with the Bears to extend his contract. The Pro Bowl linebacker's appearance Wednesday fueled speculation that talks are progressing.

Urlacher did not talk to reporters after practice, and Bears officials said nothing is imminent regarding a new deal.

At last weekend's Bears fan convention, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said it helps a player to be at voluntary workouts if they want a new contract.

"You know, it's not a written rule that we have, but I think to most teams -- and we feel the same way -- it makes sense," Phillips said. "If you want us to engage in any kind of discussions, whether anything gets done or not, it makes sense that you're here and showing your side of your obligation to the club."

The Bears have reportedly offered Urlacher a one-year extension worth $5 million in bonus money with $1 million more per year through 2011, contingent on his playing time.

It's not clear whether Urlacher will be available for next week's final voluntary practices, but Babich said he isn't concerned.

"From my point of view, when it comes to Brian Urlacher I know that if he's not here, he's doing what he has to do away from here to be the best player he can be," Babich said.

Players have had two practices to get over the loss of Benson, the 2005 first-round draft pick who was cut after two alcohol-related arrests in just over a month. Without Benson or Peterson, it meant more first-team snaps for rookie second-round pick Matt Forte of Tulane and second-year back Garrett Wolfe.

The Bears also had return man/receiver Devin Hester running the ball out of the backfield on several plays.

Fullback Jason McKie wouldn't call the decision to cut Benson a message to players that the team will now be less tolerant of poor offseason behavior.

"I think a lot of people already had that message clear," McKie said. "When coach Smith first came here he said he was going to treat us like real men. He said you've got to be real men on and off the field and you've got to carry yourself in that way. So everybody knew what was at stake."

So far, the Bears haven't shown an interest in the free agent backs available, a list that includes former Lions first-round draft pick Kevin Jones, former MVP Shaun Alexander and former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.

"The only thing that matters is how the coaches feel about the situation, and I think the coaches are confident in us," Wolfe said. "If they're not confident, they'll bring somebody else in to help increase the competition level, whatever they deem necessary."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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