For today’s War Story Wednesday, we turn to longtime scout and coach (and my mentor) John Paul Young for a story about the drafting of a legendary linebacker.
Young was the Southwest area scout for the Chicago Bears in 1999, Brian Urlacher’s senior season at the University of New Mexico. Given the remoteness of Albuquerque, scouts didn’t come in droves to see the oversized box safety who looked like a ‘tweener.’ However, John Paul, who had coached such legendary linebackers as Robert Brazile (Oilers) and Rickey Jackson (Saints), knew Urlacher had what it takes to be the next great ‘monster of the midway’ in the Windy City.
“If it hadn’t had been for (Bears Vice President of Player Personnel) Mark Hatley, (the Bears wouldn’t have taken him). Nobody else wanted him. I had to get up on the table for them to draft him. Of course, now they all say they wanted him (chuckles), but they didn’t at the time, I tell you that. In fact, several (members of the personnel staff) were highly pissed at me until he got to camp.
“He was playing strong safety (in college) and (New Mexico) would bring him down in the box anytime it was a run situation, which made him like a ‘monster’ back (a free-lancer who moves to the strong side of the offensive formation), and even when he was in the secondary he was making plays at the line of scrimmage. On a lot of plays, (New Mexico) wasted his ability. He should have been in a positon at free safety because he had a better opportunity to get to more plays. Anyway, as you watched him, you would probably draft him in the middle of the draft as a defensive back. But after I watched him, I got fascinated by him, because I met him the first time I was there, and . . . we just connected. I probably spent a lot more time looking at him than anybody else did, and I just felt like he had a lot of the same characteristics that I looked for in linebackers. You can’t put it on paper what it is. It’s just a feeling that you get from watching hours and hours and games and games of film.”
“The big question was whether to go offense or defense, and we needed to draft a quarterback sometime, during that draft. Just like most clubs, offense is a lot dearer to them than defense, so there’s always that. If you’re going to draft a defensive player in the first round, there’s going to be some opposition. You’ve got those guys that are ‘take the best athlete available’ guys, they’re height/weight/speed, and then you have those guys that are position-oriented, and it’s good if you have a spread to cover all those areas. Myself, I’m a guy that looks for a player that can make a difference, a player you can build something around, whether it’s a running back or a tight end or a quarterback or a free safety or a linebacker. Remember, (former Chiefs linebacker) Dino Hackett out of Appalachian State, that was a similar (draft) situation, and there was a lot of opposition between second and third round (Hackett was drafted 35th overall). And you know, Rickey Jackson was another one. But Urlacher, he just was a guy that the Good Lord blessed him with the ability to get to the football and diagnose plays, and that showed up when he was playing free safety.
“After we drafted (Urlacher), the coaches, when he came to camp, put him at Will linebacker, which is like safety, a hybrid safety position, and Mark Hatley called me and said, ‘You’d better get up here,’ so I went up there and we had a knockdown, drag-out fight, this time with the coaches. Me and Mark had to get film out and show them, and anyway, they said they’d try him there for a little while. He made Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl the first year in the league. I’ve made plenty of bad choices, and had plenty that didn’t work out, just like anybody, but this is a team sport, and a guy’s got to fit in to the team, and has to bring something to the team, and has to enhance the team around him. You don’t hire a quarterback to win the ballgame, you hire him to help the other 22 win the ballgame. I don’t have all the answers but (I believe that).”