Will Brown’s departure create leadership void?

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Jay Cutler is the face of the offense. Brian Urlacher is the face of the defense, even if he did miss all of the 2009 season with a wrist injury. Lance Briggs has become the team’s best and most consistent player, which is a role Urlacher can win back with a productive 2010 season. Center Olin Kreutz is an unquestioned leader.

Alex Brown was the Bears conscience.

The Bears lost their conscience Thursday.

General Manager Jerry Angelo bought Julius Peppers, the shiniest and most expensive free agent on the lot. Now the first payment has come due in the form of Brown. The veteran defensive end’s performance may have declined in recent years like so many other Bears players, but he remained one of the most consistent performers on a defensive that lacked consistency.

He was also one player who faced the media no matter how poorly the team played. He didn’t just serve up cliches, either. Brown would tell it like it was, and when he couldn’t, he would allow you to read between the lines. There was no better example than after a 41-21 loss to the Cardinals at Soldier Field on Nov. 8. The Cardinals, as you may recall, scored on their first six possessions that day. It was the kind of performance that made you question everything about the Bears as an organization.

“Anybody who doesn’t feel bad after that shouldn’t be here,” Brown said afterwards. ”That’s horrible. We stunk up the place. It was pretty bad. I don’t really know what to do. We’ve got another game Thursday. I know we keep saying go home and soul search and look at yourself, but I don’t know. It might be something more. It might be more than that.”

Lovie Smith bragged about his team’s leadership late season, which seemed odd given the team’s collapse had already occurred. Brown was one of those leaders. He’s gone. Adewale Ogunleye was one of those leaders. He’s gone, too.

Urlacher is the undeniable leader of the defense. He’s back, which everyone swears will make a big impact even if the defense was lousy with Urlacher in 2008 and ’09. Is Peppers a leader? Not if criticisms about him taking plays off turn out to be true, he isn’t. Is Briggs a leader?

We don’t know how this is going to play out. It’s too early in the offseason to draw conclusions. The Bears roster is not set. Training camp remains on the distant horizon. But the Bears may have lost more than an aging defensive end when they axed Brown. Sometimes leadership can be overrated. Smith lauding his team for their leadership last season was a perfect example. But one wonders who will serve as the leader of the defensive line now that Brown is no longer around to hold himself — and everybody else — accountable.

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