Bears Questions: Who is the 2nd starting OLB?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Bears traded up into top ten of this year’s draft to select OLB Leonard Floyd out of Georgia, but despite his lofty draft status as the 9th overall pick he’s not likely to start the 2016 season as one of the Bears starting OLBs.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Floyd could surprise most analysts with a strong preseason and earn a starting gig in week one, but it would be an upset. I’ll break down Floyd’s chances as well as the other candidates for the starting OLB job across from Pernell McPhee.

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McPhee is a lock to start the year as one of the Bears staring outside linebackers. He was the Bears new leadership’s first significant free agent acquisition last year, agreeing to come to Chicago on a 5-year, $38.75M deal last off-season.

It looked like one of the best free agent signings of the off-season early in 2015 as McPhee had five sacks in the Bears first seven games. Unfortunately a knee injury slowed McPhee down the 2nd half of the season, forcing him to miss two full games and significant snaps in many others. In limited snaps, McPhee only had one sack after week seven. He still did finish in the top 20 overall in the league in QB pressures, which is even more impressive considered he played the 2nd half on a bum knee.

He should be fully recovered this year and primed for a productive season if he can stay healthy. McPhee’s productivity will actually be impacted quite a bit by who ends up lining up across from him at the other OLB position. Opposing teams will normally pick a side to keep a tight end or running back in to block based on the defense’s most dangerous pass rusher. Last year that blocker was always on McPhee’s side.

Next year that will most likely be McPhee again, but if another legitimate pass-rusher can emerge from the other OLB position then McPhee will face less chip blocks and could have a double-digit plus sack season. I’ll break down the most likely candidates for the other starting OLB job below.

Who is the 2nd starting OLB?

So with one OLB spot locked down, who starts across from McPhee?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Lamarr Houston – After an embarrassing initial season with the Bears, Houston not only made up for his wasted first season but was one of the Bears most effective pass rushers in the 2nd half of 2015 with eight sacks and the team lead in QB hurries during the second half of the season.

Even more impressive is that Houston was coming off an ACL tear and playing his first season as a 3-4 OLB. The transition from playing as a down linemen to a stand-up OLB is significant and the fact that Houston was able to do it with almost no practice time due to his injury in 2014 is hard to believe.

The Bears have plenty of salary cap room, but Houston is making a lot of money this season ($7M) and the fact that the Bears kept him is a good sign that they think he can replicate, if not improve on, his 2015 numbers.

Houston gives the Bears a ton of versatility as he can play his usual stand-up OLB position, but can also go back to either his DE or DT position when the Bears break out their 4-man front as they did about a third of the time last season. He can be above-average from three different positions for the Bears this year and seemed to get better every game once he came back from his first major NFL injury. Houston is one of my early candidates for a break-out player this season.

Next: More OLB Options