Ten Questions Facing the Chicago Bears in 2015

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Dec 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is tackled by Chicago Bears inside linebacker Jon Bostic (57) during the second half at Soldier Field. Dallas won 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

How will the linebacker situation shake out?

If the defensive line has no depth and few starters, the linebacker corps has good depth but still questions about who will start.

The linebacker group for the Bears is littered with 4-3 players adjusting to life in a 3-4. Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, Willie Young and David Bass are all switching to outside linebacker from defensive end. Shea McClellin, Jonathan Bostic and Christian Jones are all shifting to inside linebacker after learning a variety of strongside and middle linebacker, respectively.

To complement those shifting parts, the team brought in Pernell McPhee to start at one outside linebacker slot and signed Mason Foster to likely start at one of the inside linebacker positions, setting up fierce competition for the other two slots.

Houston would likely be a definite starter except for an ACL tear he’s still recovering from, suffered in last season’s loss to New England. Young is also coming off an injury, a torn Achilles tendon. That leaves Allen and Bass as the only two healthy candidates, along with newcomer Sam Acho, who has experience in a 3-4 and played well in a 3-4 in Arizona. If Houston is healthy, he’ll start. If not, look for Acho to start, with Allen coming in primarily in pass rushing situations.

Dec 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) rushes against Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (69) at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 13-9. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Allen is an intriguing option in the Bears defense. He’s a Hall of Fame defensive end making the switch to a 3-4 outside linebacker for the first time, and it’s pretty much a guarantee he’ll be a liability in any manner of pass coverage the team asks him to do, so expect them to limit his responsibilities there. When the team switches to a four-man front, he seems a lock to come back in to his old position at defensive end.

On the inside, rising second-year man Christian Jones and third-year player Jonathan Bostic are likely to battle it out for the starting inside slot opposite Mason Foster. Bostic struggled in pass coverage last year, and has bounced between middle and strongside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, while Jones played outside linebacker in the Bears’ 4-3 last year.

The Jones-Bostic debate is a coin flip at this point, as both are learning this position at the NFL level for the first time. On a hunch, I’m going with Bostic. He’s struggled in the passing game, but he’s got good speed and hitting power and should be playing with a tinge of desperation after his struggles for the first two seasons. But seeing Jones start, especially as the season progresses, wouldn’t be a surprise.

Next: So About this 3-4 Defense