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Urlacher completes his rookie turnaround

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001


NEW YORK -- From an early-season benching to top rookie is an improbable climb. Brian Urlacher of the Bears did it and was selected the Associated Press defensive rookie of the year.

Urlacher, the ninth pick from New Mexico in April's draft, easily won the award in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover pro football. The middle linebacker, who received 271/2 votes, didn't expect it to happen, particularly after his career got off to a rough start when he was tried on the outside.

"You only get a chance to win rookie of the year once. ... It means a lot," Urlacher said. "I didn't know what to expect coming into this year, then I started out so bad with training camp, and it was frustrating. But they saw something and moved me to middle linebacker.

"I think I got better and better as the season went on."

He clearly did, finishing with team-leading totals of 125 tackles, 99 solo, and eight sacks for the Bears. He also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

From sideline to sideline, Urlacher was as active as such All-Pros as Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks. He also was strong as a pass defender, a skill he owes greatly to also playing safety in college.

"It's amazing, I'm so happy," said Urlacher, who joined tackle Wally Chambers (1973) and safety Mark Carrier (1990) as Bears players who won the award. "I was sure I wouldn't get it because we didn't have a very good record. I guess not. I guess I played well enough."

His most memorable game probably came at Buffalo, where he was in on 16 tackles. It was then comparisons with Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary began surfacing.

Urlacher was one of four players to get votes. New Orleans end Darren Howard, a former Boca Ciega standout, was next with 151/2, followed by Philadelphia tackle Corey Simon with six and Cleveland end Courtney Brown -- the top pick in the 2000 draft -- with one.

Last year's winner was Jevon Kearse of Tennessee.

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