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Urlacher’s retirement may mark end of importance of middle linebackers

Published 9:36am Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Wednesday, one of the last star middle linebackers hung up his cleats as Brian Urlacher retired from the NFL.

Urlacher will be best remembered for giving the Bears defense teeth for over 13 years, as he harassed opposing quarterbacks and used his size and agility to become a league standout.

In the last few seasons, injuries and age have caught up to the midway monster making his presence that of legend and not reality.

Earlier in the year, Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis also took a bow after winning the Super Bowl.

After seeing the iconic middle man retire, it has made me question the importance of the position moving forward.

A middle linebacker is the defensive quarterback, calling out plays and adjustments in order to put a team’s defense in the best position to make a stop. But with the recent popularity of the spread and pistol offenses, the middle linebacker has found less and less time on the field.

The Minnesota Vikings may have noticed this approach in this year’s draft as they opted not to draft Manti Teo or another middle linebacker with one of its three first round picks. The Packers, Bears and Lions are known more for passing game then their run attack. Knowing that the Vikings will have to deal with these teams twice a season, Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman used one of the three picks to draft a bigger cornerback to shut down those teams’ top caliber receivers.

On the other side, those teams have had a hard time stopping Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson as none of the teams now possess a strong middle linebacker. Peterson, himself, may be a dying breed as team’s expect more than a three yards and a cloud of dust out of its runningbacks.

The days of Jack Lambert, Ray Nitschke, Junior Seau and Dick Butkus may be long gone, even if Patrick Willis and other young players like Brian Cushing show glimpses of the former hard nose play.

The NFL has always been a league of trends and has seen offenses (two tightend sets) and defenses (five-man fronts) cycle back around.

So fans should enjoy the evolution of the game as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers and not mourn the loss of the position of middle linebacker as the quarterbacks lead their teams with dominating aerial attacks.

Urlacher will go down as one of the best to play the position, but the era of the middle linebacker may be over.

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