The Chicago Bears’ linebackers are proving to be the strength of the team.
The Chicago Bears had an interesting dilemma coming into the previous offseason. They had a defense that was still underachieving. This, despite the fact they had one of the better defensive coordinators in the league in Vic Fangio. Chicago had some solid stars on defense, Pernell McPhee was one of them but he was injured often. Eddie Goldman was an up and comer but, like McPhee he was injured. The group was on the rise but didn’t perform up to the coaching staff’s expectations.
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The front office, along with the coaching staff, got together during the offseason to make a plan. They wanted to bolster the team’s defense. Their biggest target was at inside linebacker and the Bears biggest free agent splash was signing former Denver Broncos star Danny Trevathan. They also signed free agent Jerrell Freeman from the Indianapolis Colts. These two were very talented and very promising.
In addition to free agency, Chicago also bolstered the position through the draft. They took Georgia defensive end/linebacker Leonard Floyd as well as West Virginia star Nick Kwiatkoski.
Another part of their plan was to re-sign Sam Acho. Their ideals clearly centered on strengthening the defense in an attempt to make it better for the 2016 season.
The Bears went into training camp with a bevy of players at both the inside and outside linebacker positions. You had your starters, Trevathan, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young . They did have some players that were not so well-known with guys like Roy Robertson-Harris, Lamin Barrow and Jarrett Grace on the roster.
We can’t forget about McPhee either. Still, the Bears knew from the start that there was a very good possibility he wasn’t going to be playing at the start of the season.
The Bears were able to find some good talent and create some competition. Chicago was able to develop a starting unit out of what they had in training camp.
Coming out of training camp, they had Trevathan and Freeman as the starters at the inside linebacker spots. Houston and Young were penciled in as starters at the outside linebacker positions. To back them up, Chicago had the first rounder Floyd (who ended up starting later on ), Jonathan Anderson (who was cut eventually and replaced by John Timu ), Kwiatkoski (who had started a couple of games), Christian Jones and Acho.
Chicago did put McPhee on injured reserve to start the season. He should be able to play around Week 7 (which is when he can return).
The Start of the Season
Almost right away, the coaching staff and fans started to realize that the Bear’s linebacking corps may be the most solid unit on the team. They were performing okay at the start of the season and it showed.
As the season went on, a star emerged from the group and it wasn’t the guy that some figured would rise up. Many people figured Trevathan was going to be the team’s “stud” at linebacker but Freeman fell into that role and has had a great start to the season. Floyd also started to play better and developed into a pretty strong run defender. He just needs to work on his pass rushing skills.
The Injuries Mount
Early in the season, the Bears lost Trevathan to a thumb injury which would keep him out for a couple of games. Some felt that without Trevathan, the Bears linebackers and defense would suffer. They also lost Houston for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Some quick work needed to be done to make up for the losses and keep the group productive.
Da Windy City
The Bears coaching staff made due and plugged Kwiatkoski and Acho in place of the injured starters. Both played well when they were in the lineup and the group seemingly didn’t suffer as much as some thought they would.
During their game against the Lions, Floyd, the starter at one of the outside linebacker positions, was injured and ended up missing the Bears game against the Colts. The coaching staff had to plug someone in to take over and they did that in starting Acho. He performed well.
You can see a theme developing. This group has very talented starters but when they have injuries the coaches are able to plug-in replacements. These players are able to step in and play at or near the same level as the starters. Backups like Acho are solid and Kwiatkoski, even though he’s a rookie, came in and made enough plays to keep the defense competitive and keep the team in games.
The early returns on this group are good. They have been able to play well despite the injuries and have kept the Bears defense going strong at certain points in all games. There is a lot of good talent in the group and Freeman was a nice surprise as he stepped up and played very well .
Floyd has been pretty stout against the run early on and may, when he returns from injury, finish up with a solid season. The rookie could end up quieting critics who balked at his being selected in the first round of the draft this past May.
The jury is still out on Trevathan but Young, who had a poor start to the season, finally started to show why the Bears signed him to a contract extension. In the game against the Colts this past Sunday Young broke out and had three sacks. Hopefully he can continue that type of effort for the rest of the season.
Still waiting in the wings to make his 2016 debut is McPhee. Some say he appears to be ready to return and could be ready come back in Week 7. It would be a big deal for the Bears to have him back. If McPhee can come back and be productive the defense will improve even more.
Chicago has built nice depth at the linebacker position, perhaps the best depth at any position on the team. With good health they may be able to boast one of the top linebacker groups in the NFL. This group needs to be the backbone of the Bears defense this year.
The defensive line, which is often credited as being “where it all starts” has been banged up. That unit is still not quite 100% so the linebackers will need to sweep in and clean up what the line can’t take care of. They need to keep the plays in front of them and not let opponents get into the secondary. If they can do that, the Bears will play some close games on defense and may even win a few.
Credit the coaching staff and the front office for putting this group together. They have had similar perhaps unrealized success with the secondary as well so far. Chicago is getting better but it’s taking time. The Bear’s linebackers are one of the better units in the league and certainly the best unit on the team.