Mike Brown puts injury behind him

 

 

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – He had already endured his share of injuries and losing seasons, but nothing compared to the pain Mike Brown felt in Miami.

The Chicago Bears were back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years, and all he could do was watch as the Indianapolis Colts ran away with the championship. He was nursing a season-ending foot injury, and the thought that he might not get another shot at the title crossed his mind.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through in my professional career because everyone wants to play in that game; it’s the biggest game in the world,” said Brown, a Pro Bowl safety in 2005. “I wasn’t able to do it, but we’re going to have another opportunity, I believe, to erase those bad and good memories from that week and come back with a championship.”

The Bears envision a more consistent Rex Grossman in his second full season as the starting quarterback, and they believe he will have no trouble finding open receivers with a healthy Mark Bradley and speedy return specialist Devin Hester complementing Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian.

And they see a defense that’s perhaps deeper than the one that dominated at times last season.

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“I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying we should be good defensively,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We have a good group over there.”

Brown is healthy after undergoing surgery to repair ligament damage in his right foot and so is defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who suffered a season-ending hamstring injury last December. Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs finally decided to accept the Bears’ franchise tender offer of one year and $7.2 million last week.

Defensive tackle Tank Johnson is gone, with veteran Darwin Walker taking his place. And Chicago acquired strong safety Adam Archuleta from Washington in March.

“I thought it was a very good offseason,” general manager Jerry Angelo said.

It was uncertain for Brown.

He wasn’t sure the organization would stick with him, and with Archuleta in the defensive backfield, Brown is moving to free safety.

“To be able to have another opportunity, that to me seems like I’m a big part of the team,” he said. “I feel like my teammates respect me in that way. The coaches know what I bring to the table.”

He missed the final 14 games in 2004 with an Achilles injury and the last four of the 2005 regular season because of a strained calf.

Last year, his season came crashing to a halt in the sixth game, when the Bears rallied from a 20-point deficit to win at Arizona 24-23 on a Monday night. Brown started the comeback when he scored on a 3-yard fumble recovery in the third quarter, extending his franchise record for defensive touchdowns to seven. But he limped off the field and was taken from the sideline on a cart after his foot got twisted on a running play in the fourth.

“I knew I was in a bad situation,” Brown said. “I couldn’t really walk. I got to the sideline, and that’s when you could really tell there was nothing really going on with my foot. It was kind of dead on its own. You’re hoping it’s not as bad as you think it is. But obviously, when I took the X-rays, it was a lost cause.”

Losing Brown was a major blow for the Bears. Another one came in December, when Harris went on injured reserve. And a Bears defense that was ranked No. 1 slipped to fifth.

But Chicago did enough to make a run for the championship, a run that came up just a little short. It was glorious and painful to watch for Brown, who endured losing records in four of his first five seasons.

Then, things changed.

Chicago went 11-5 and made the playoffs in 2005, but all Brown could do was watch when the Bears played for the title last season.

Now?

“Coming into the regular season, I should be ready and roaring to go,” Brown said.