Chicago Bears 2015 Position Preview: Outside Linebacker

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Jared Allen

Allen was adamant about not playing OLB in a 3-4 during his time with the Vikings, but at 33 years old and coming off the worst season of his career (6 sacks), he doesn’t have the leverage he used to. Allen has always been small for a 4-3 DE so physically he’s actually a good fit for the OLB role in Fangio’s scheme but after playing 11 years with his hand in the dirt it will be a significant change playing as a stand up pass rusher most of the time. Projected starters McPhee & Houston are both younger, more explosive and better fits for the position than Allen, so he will have his work cut out for him to earn snaps. Fangio has always run a hybrid scheme with plenty of 4-3 fronts, so Allen will still see time at his old position but is projected for a reserve role for the first time since his rookie season.

Allen’s lack of production last season could have had a lot to do with his bout of pneumonia which caused significant weight loss and lack of functional strength. Over his final 7 games Allen earned a 9.6 grade from Pro Football Focus which would have been good for the 15th best grade in the NFL at DE. Allen is saying all the right things about playing OLB and could surprise this year and get back to his usual double-digit sack totals. He averaged 15 sacks a year in the three seasons before he came to the Bears, so there still may be some gas in the tank.

Willie Young

Probably the most pleasant surprise of last season, Young was signed as DE depth but quickly became the Bears most effective pass rusher, finishing the season with 10 sacks before an ACL tear cut his year short in week 16. Young was also solid against the run (5.0 grade) but doesn’t project well as a 3-4 OLB. Most of his wins came from using his long arms to keep blockers off of him, the balance to get low to the ground coming off the edge and the speed to close on the QB. He’s not exceptionally quick, athletic or powerful and could struggle as a stand-up OLB. Young was productive last season without any stand out traits, so I’m not writing him off at all, but ultimately his lack of agility and lateral quickness could restrict him to a pass rush specialist when the Bears play 4-man fronts.

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Sam Acho

One of the smartest, most engaging OLBs in the league off the field but hasn’t put up good statistics since his 7 sack rookie season in 2011. Despite his lack of sack totals, Acho did have 23 QB hurries in just 483 regular season snaps. His 4.7% hurry per snap ratio was 7th in the NFL among 3-4 OLBs, so the talent is there to get to the QB. Acho has long arms, uses his hands well, has a decent burst off the snap, innate football awareness, and a non-stop motor. There has been almost no press about the Acho signing, but he has more 3-4 experience than most OLBs on the Bears roster, elite football instincts, and legit pass rush talent.

Acho lacks length (6’1) and strength which hurts him as a run defender and is stiff in coverage, but OLBs aren’t asked to cover much in Fangio’s scheme. His ability to rush the passer should at least get Acho on the field in sub-packages and he could surprise this season.