Chicago Bears: Projecting the 2015 Defensive Starters

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Pernell McPhee, ROLB

Dec 14, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback

Blake Bortles

(5) throws as Baltimore Ravens linebacker

Pernell McPhee

(90) defends during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The big free agent prize this offseason for Pace and the Bears was pass-rusher Pernell McPhee, the defensive end-turned-linebacker who spent his first 4 years in the league with the Baltimore Ravens.  The 2011 5th round draft pick out of Mississippi State had the most productive year of his career in 2014, totaling 7.5 sacks with 64 QB pressures and 24 QB hits.

The acquisition of McPhee is exciting for me because he’s coming over from a culture of defensive excellence, and he had 4 years to be mentored by some of the best in the game.  Playing behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the depth chart in 2014, McPhee was Pro Football Focus’ #2 rated 3-4 OLB (Justin Houston was #1).  A Bears defense that was already in need of leadership is now re-inventing itself in the 3-4 alignment, so the opportunity is there for the 26-year-old to take the mantle.

Despite the ideal fit McPhee’s pass-rush skills create for Fangio’s 3-4 defense, one particular question he’ll have to answer is regarding his lack of starting experience.  Playing in 60 career games thus far, McPhee has only started 6 and that was in 2012 when Suggs was recovering from a torn Achilles.  The Bears are betting that he is an ascending player and at this stage of his career is fully ready for a full-time starting role.

Lamarr Houston, LOLB

Oct 26, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo

(10) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive end

Lamarr Houston

(99) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 51-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Houston, currently best known by Bears fans for a fateful sack dance that blew out his knee, is the man I’ll slot at the other starting OLB spot.  There were many other viable options to choose from here and considering how embarrassing his celebratory gaffe was, it wasn’t easy for me to make this selection.

The narrative, however, is just as much about all the other choices as it is Houston.  My initial lean was towards Willie Young but his Achilles injury came late in 2014, the timing of which may impact his ability to compete at full-speed in training camp.  Jared Allen has been saying all the right things about making the switch from career DE to OLB, but it’s hard to envision him as more than a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career.

Sam Acho was brought in for his 3-4 experience and BGO’s Dan Schmelzer pointed out how he can make an impact, but chances are his role is to provide depth and perhaps some spot-starts.  David Bass has shown flashes with the Bears but with the competition I expect him to get lost in the sauce.  So Houston it is, and we’ll see if the prized free agent from 2014 can make us remember him for something else.

Next: MLBs: Searching for Post-Urlacher Identity