Brian Urlacher is ready to turn it up a notch.
''Preseason just ended for me -- that's the way I look at it,'' the Bears' eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker said Friday at Halas Hall. ''I didn't play the whole preseason and now I feel like Ive got a little bit of game shape and can run a little better.''
After missing virtually the entire offseason program, training camp and preseason while recovering from sprained ligaments in his left knee in Week 17 last season, Urlacher started slowly in the regular-season opener against the Colts, with two tackles in a little more than half the game.
His numbers improved in the next two games -- he had 11 tackles against the Packers and eight against the Rams -- but he has yet to show the lateral quickness and change-of-direction speed that has made him one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL.
That the Bears have not needed Urlacher at that level is a credit to improved play from ''supporting cast'' members such as Tim Jennings (four interceptions), Shea McClellin (two sacks), Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks) and Stephen Paea (4 quarterback pressures). The Bears are second in the NFL in defensive points allowed (36) and sixth in total defense (279 yards allowed).
But eventually they might need vintage Urlacher to sustain their momentum. Urlacher feels he's at least headed in that direction.
''I don't have any pain,'' he said. ''The more I play, the better I'll get. The [better] shape I'll get.''