BOURBONNAIS — The face of the franchise felt more like a freckle back in August 2000.
Brian Urlacher was the Bears' first-round draft pick, the future of the team, the new poster boy in town. None of those factors absolved him from the wrath of veteran teammates such as Bryan Robinson.
"It was a preseason game during my rookie year,'' Urlacher recalled, "and I (goofed) on one of the blitzes. B-Rob went berserk on me yelling, 'You stupid mother (bleep).' I got embarrassed. I was like, 'I'm sorry,' because I didn't know what else to say. He laid into my ass pretty bad.''
Urlacher, who remains close friends with Robinson, becomes a little hesitant now when watching the growing pains of draft picks Stephen Paea, J.T. Thomas and Chris Conte.
"I would never do what B-Rob did to me to any rookie because I know how that made me feel,'' Urlacher said. "I mean, B-Rob was right in doing it, but I just don't ever see myself being like that. Plus I'm not a yell-and-scream type of guy. I don't think that will ever change.''
Urlacher usually reserves his tirades to defensive breakdowns on Sundays. Just ask fellow linebacker Lance Briggs, the recipient of a handful of those tongue-lashings.
"You become accustomed to when you screw up, you're probably going to get a mouthful from him,'' Briggs said of Urlacher. "Part of being a leader is the ability to be a jerk.''
Urlacher doesn't want the "jerk'' label. Not now. Not ever.
"We don't need a guy to go yell at everybody,'' Urlacher said. "Our guys, they don't act like dumb-asses. They follow rules. They practice hard. They lead by example.''
Front and center
One Bear described the locker room as a "morgue'' after the team parted ways with veteran center and locker-room leader Olin Kreutz.
"We couldn't believe it,'' he said. "I never had a practice without Olin and was just used to him being around. It's a lot quieter now.
"In practice, he and I used to yap all the time. Not fighting, just talking about, 'I'm going to kick your butt,' just messing around. I'll try to do it with the other guys, but it's just not the same.''
Urlacher respects Kreutz so much that he almost feared offending him.
Urlacher doesn't hold back in reflecting on Kreutz's final days in Chicago. He stayed in close contact with Kreutz throughout the negotiations. He knew the center wouldn't return two days before it became official.
"It was all confusing to me, but we all wanted Olin back,'' Urlacher said. "On our side, it's like, 'Just give him the $500,000.' That's how we look at it as players. But there's also a business side to it. They have to watch everything they do with the salary cap and stuff like that. I see both sides.''
He will see Kreutz on the other side when the Bears and Saints meet in Week 2 of the regular season. It's sure to be a strange sight considering the two spent 11 seasons together in Chicago.
Urlacher, 33, was asked if he could envision wearing another uniform.
"It's a reality. If you play that long, you might have to play for another team,'' he said. "I haven't thought about it too much, but it has crossed my mind.
"I don't want to play anywhere else, I'll tell you that much. I think everyone knows that. I see myself playing here forever. Hopefully, I don't have a situation like Olin did.''
Follow the leader
Leading by example for Urlacher means showing up to camp in shape after a chaotic offseason.
He spent time during the lockout working out in Arizona and lifting weights at Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center. The bulk of his grunt work occurred at his north suburban home, running laps in his backyard and completing drills in his front yard.
"I did it there because I have (10 acres) of land,'' Urlacher said. "It's nice when you don't even have to leave the house.
"I feel great right now. Most of our guys came to camp in shape. I wasn't worried about that because I knew everybody would take care of their bodies and do the right things.''
No one impressed Urlacher more than quarterback Jay Cutler, who showed up with a new, slender physique.
"Jay looks great,'' he said. "He's killing us in practice. He's doing all the right things. He practices hard. He studies. He knows his stuff. And the guys see that.''
Cutler appreciated the praise and expressed mutual respect for Urlacher.
"Brian does the little things, doing stuff before practice just to get ready to go,'' Cutler said. "He's the consummate professional. Whether it's film study, getting his body ready, getting his mind ready, he does everything possible to be the best.''
A few days into training camp, Cutler ran over to a receiver after an incomplete pass and demonstratively explained how the receiver ran the wrong route. Urlacher had no problems with that.
"He lets you know when you mess up because he wants things done the right way,'' Urlacher said. "That's a leader.''
Cutler is willing to become more of a stabilizing force in the locker room alongside Urlacher. He also is prepared to raise his tone without causing a stir.
"You have to treat everyone differently,'' Cutler said. "Some guys need you on them, busting on them and yelling at them. Some guys, if you do that, they're going to shut it down and they're not going to respond. You have to get to know your guys. You can't just come out here screaming and yelling at people.
"And Brian has a great feel for it. He knows what buttons to push, what buttons not to push. And that's what being a leader is.''
You might catch Urlacher pulling a Cutler at some point before the end of camp, but he's unlikely to be as animated. When he talks, his teammates listen. He's the unquestioned locker-room leader, even if he refuses to anoint himself.
"There are other guys on this team capable of being leaders,'' Urlacher said. "It's not about one guy.''
But if one voice needs to be heard, it will be Urlacher's. He's far from the rookie whom Robinson once berated.
"Brian has been the guy and will continue to be the guy,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "We will probably ask him to do a little bit more. And he realizes that.''