Chicago Bears 2015 Position Preview: Inside Linebacker
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With free agency and the NFL draft completed, the core of the Chicago Bears 2015 roster is in place. There may be an undrafted player who makes the team via mini-camp, like RB Senorise Perry and CB Al Louis-Jean did last year, or a free agent signing of a cap casualty late in the preseason, but for the most part the roster is in place. Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down the Bears depth chart at every position.
The Bears are entering the 2015 season with a group of 8 players vying for spots at inside linebacker, but none of them have started an NFL game at ILB in a 3-4 base alignment. I’ve listed Bostic and free agent signing Mason Foster are the projected starters because they played with the first team during the Bears OTAs, but the coaching staff has said the starting gigs are still up for grabs and the 2nd group in OTAs of Christian Jones and Shea McClellin has been getting consistent praise from the coaching staff.
Those four have the best chance to earn significant minutes, but the Bears have a couple of young players in John Timu and DeDe Lattmore who have college experience in a 3-4 scheme. Former Illini Jonathan Brown was a 4-3 OLB in college and is a long-shot, while Jonathan Anderson is a great athlete but his best chance for a roster spot is on special teams.
Position Previews: QB | RB | WR | OT | OG | C | TE | DT | DE | OLB | ILB
2015 Bears ILB Depth Chart:
Since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, Bostic has been very inconsistent with the Bears. Some blame for that has to be laid on the Bears coaching staff for hindering his development by shuffling him between multiple positions over the last two seasons. Despite playing 13 games last season (with 8 starts), Bostic never played more than three games in a row at the same position. Bostic has shown flashes of being a play-maker in his short time with the Bears but never seemed to be comfortable in his assignments last season.
In order to take advantage of the physical skills that made Bostic a 2nd round pick he will need to learn the nuances of his new role. Bostic is running with the first team defense in OTAs so far, but he will need to prove he has a better grasp of his responsibilities than he did last year in order to keep the job. He has the talent to be a force against the run and the big hitter the Bears have been missing in the middle of their defense the last few seasons.
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The Bears have some question marks at ILB after switching to a 3-4 scheme and signed Mason Foster this offseason to potentially handle one of the starting roles. Here is what I wrote about Foster back in January:
"I was high on Foster coming out of college in 2011 due to his elite run stopping potential. He has good instincts, takes proper angles to the ball, rarely misses a tackle, and likes to hit. Injuries have hampered his production with the Bucs, but he didn’t miss a game in college so I’m confident it’s not an on-going issue. Foster’s versatility is another plus, he played all three 4-3 LB spots in college and could fit multiple defensive schemes. He likely won’t carry a hefty price tag due to injuries and limited production, but the former 3rd round pick would give the Bears a potential starter at ILB if they switch to a 3-4."
Foster’s skill set fits well with the scheme DC Vic Fangio used in San Francisco and if he’s implementing a similar look in Chicago then Foster should have an edge for a starting role. He is solid against the run, has good blitzing instincts and earned a positive grade in pass coverage last season which could be a huge edge as coverage skills are a perceived weakness for most of his primary competition at ILB (Bostic, McClellin). Barring injury, I would be surprised if Foster doesn’t start the season in the week 1 lineup.