TUCSON--Anyone who knows former UA linebacker Lance Briggs well enough, knows he has a different visage or two.
There's the impish smile and the twinkling eyes that emerge when he talks of his family or friends. Then, there's the countenance you get when he's on the field: all business and no nonsense. The twinkle is more like a glint as he sizes up the hit.
Briggs was wearing the grin in McKale Center on Friday, along with Chicago Bears' teammate Tommie Harris, a 2004 rookie starter at defensive tackle. Harris earned his early spurs on Mike Stoops' Oklahoma defense, training under strength coach Corey Edmond. Those two guys are at UA now, and Harris and Briggs were back for some workouts.
Briggs said he's in the best shape of his life "and a whole lot stronger" than in his playing days at Arizona, where he was a three-time all-league selection at linebacker after spending his true freshman year as a fullback.
"But when I work out here now, you can look at the bodies and tell there's a big difference. It's going to show this year and beyond. Coach Stoops is getting this thing together."
Briggs has started 29 consecutive games in the NFL and led Chicago with 168 tackles in his second season in 2004. He earned alternate status to the Pro Bowl and tied another former UA great -- Tedy Bruschi of New England -- with the most interception returns for scores in the past two seasons, 2, among linebackers in the NFL. He's played both strong- and weak-side linebacker for the Bears.
"The best thing about Chicago was that when I got there, there were some familiar faces" in former Cats Joe Tafoya and fellow 2003 rookie Bobby Wade, now a starting receiver. Tafoya has since moved on to the Seattle Seahawks. "It was more like home having those guys around. Bobby's on the other side of the field, but when Joe was there we had plenty of moments."
Briggs was a Sacramento, Calif., prep standout who was one of Arizona's top recruits in 1999, reportedly indicating his choice of schools by putting on a Wildcat cap at a news conference and leaving the other hat untouched.
He said he's anticipating that the Bears could be a cinderella team in the NFC this year. But he's just as eager to see how things shake out in Tucson for the 2005 Arizona club.
"I'm really happy for the current players. It's a blessing that they're here now under this situation. I was talking to Spencer Larsen, and he's just so ready to get this going." Larsen, who played as a true freshman alongside then-senior Briggs for the 2002 Wildcats, went on a two-year Mormon mission and returned to UA at mid-year.
The Bears' web site on Lance:
|PRO CAREER: Emerging as one of the top LBs in the NFC after leading the team with a career-high 168 tackles in his second season and first as a full-time starter on the weak-side... Enters the 2005 season having started 29 consecutive games - third-longest on team and second-longest on the defense (O. Kreutz, 38; A. Brown, 32) - including 16 straight at WLB... Tied for 3rd in the NFL (15 others) and tied for first among LBs (T. Bruschi, NE; T. Spikes, BUF) with 2 INTs returned for TDs over the last 2 seasons... Tied for fifth in team history with 2 INTs returned for TDs in career... Seized Chicago's starting strong-side LB position early in his rookie season en route to starting 13 of 16 games played and finishing the season as one of the team's top-5 tacklers... Scored Bears only defensive TD of 2003 with an INT return for TD at Green Bay& Combined with CB Charles Tillman to mark the first time Chicago rookies recorded an INT in the same season since LB Brian Urlacher and S Mike Brown in 2000.
CAREER TRANSACTIONS: Entered NFL as a third-round selection (68th overall) by Chicago in the 2003 NFL Draft... Signed contract with Bears (7/25/03). SIGNED through 2006
2004 SEASON: Started all 16 games at WLB after moving from SLB in the offseason and became the first Bears player other than Brian Urlacher to lead the team in tackles since Barry Minter in 1999... Led team in tackles in 8 games including 2 games with a career-high 17 tackles... Honored as a second- alternate OLB for the Pro Bowl after recording 168 tackles including 10 TFLs and 0.5 sack... Returned INT for a TD for second consecutive year... One of just five Bears to start all 16 games... Tied his season-high from 2003 with 12 tackles, including 1 TFL, vs. DET (9/12) in first season-opening start...
PREVIOUS SEASON: 2003 - Played all 16 games as a rookie for Chicago, becoming a starter at SLB in the fourth game and maintaining a high level of play while starting the final 13 contests, tying for 4th on the team with 81 tackles...
COLLEGE: Three-time first-team All-Pac-10 Conference selection at LB after beginning four-year career at Arizona (1999-2002) at FB... Switched positions during the spring following his freshman season... Special teams standout who also led Wildcats in tackles each of his 3 seasons on defense... Closed out his career with 308 tackles (205 solos), 10.5 sacks, 36 TFLs, 3 INTs, 10 PDs, 5 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries in 33 games at SLB... Added 163 yards and 2 TDs on 25 carries on 25 carries in 10 games at FB as a freshman... Named team's Defensive Most Valuable Player as a senior... Majored in sociology.
PERSONAL: Three-year letterman at Elk Grove H.S. in Sacramento, CA as a LB, RB, safety, kickoff and punt returner and place-kicker... Named Sacramento Bee Player-of-the-Year as a senior with 100 tackles, including 5 sacks... Rushed 26 times for 315 yards and 6 TDs as a FB in school's sectional championship win; had 1,574 yards on 139 carries overall... Two-year track letterman in the 200- meters, 4x100 relay and shot-put... Born Lance Marell Briggs to Raymond and Brenda Briggs... Sister, Tranae, played volleyball at Sacramento State, South Florida and Florida State... Cousin, Tamika Dennis, played volleyball at Arizona.