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Some kind of run for Bears' Hillenmeyer
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Hunter Hillenmeyer, left, with Brian Urlacher


Associated Press

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Published: 1/2/201 8:22 PM

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Maybe Hunter Hillenmeyer is just a late bloomer.

How else to explain his unprecedented production in this, his seventh NFL season.

It's not as if the Vanderbilt graduate (double major in economics and human and organizational development with a 3.8 grade-point average) hasn't been productive in the past.

He was a four-year starter (from 2004-07), mostly at strongside linebacker alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who have 11 Pro Bowls between them.

Hillenmeyer has never been to a Pro Bowl without a ticket, and he began the season as no better than fifth among Bears linebacker, behind the two big names, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach.

But Hillenmeyer has been a starter since Urlacher suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist in the opener.

What he has accomplished in the past six games is pretty amazing. During that time, he has forced 4 fumbles, twice as many as he did in his previous 93 games (62 starts) in the NFL. Three of the forced fumbles have been Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, including the one Monday night that set up the winning touchdown in overtime.

In the past six games he has broken up 5 passes; he had 10 in the previous six seasons. He also has an interception, doubling his career total, and he recovered the fourth fumble of his career during his current hot streak.

It would be easy to call this the best season of Hillenmeyer's career, but he won't say so.

"I've gotten a lot more chances to make plays this year," he said. "In our defense the Mike (middle linebacker) and the Will (weakside linebacker) probably get the most opportunities.

"If you looked over 10 seasons in our scheme, in nine of them the Mike and the Will are probably going to lead the team in tackles. So just by virtue of being around the ball a lot you're going to get a lot more chances to make plays."

Only Briggs, with 135, has more tackles than Hillenmeyer's 99, and only Charles Tillman has more forced fumbles (6) and pass breakups (7).

It doesn't bother Hillenmeyer a bit that apologists for the Bears frequently have cited the loss of Urlacher as a major reason for the 6-9 season.

"That seems like an obvious thing to say, to me," he said. "He is a future Hall of Famer. So to say that you wouldn't miss a guy like that, that certainly is not going to hurt my feelings.

"To say that you're going to miss a guy that's been to the Pro Bowl almost every year he's been in the league and been healthy, that seems like saying the obvious to me."