We're down to the last position group in the Roster Turnover series, the defensive position that is synonymous with the Chicago Bears, Linebacker. The Bears have had a historic string of Hall Of Fame middle linebackers, but the tradition is deep at the outside linebacker position also. The Monsters of the Midway will be back in 2012 with their 2 Pro Bowl caliber LBs running amok on opposing offenses. Is it time for an infusion of youth at the position? Perhaps...
Special thanks to the Pro Football Focus guys for allowing us access to their Premium content for the duration of this series. Their grading system provided a unique perspective to these posts.
Brian Urlacher - Signed through 2012 - All of Bears nation was taken aback when Urlacher went down in the season finale. Even though his injury wasn't serious, it still made everyone stop and think about life after Brian. For now he's still going strong, but he will be 34 when the season starts. The time to replace him is closer than we'd like. I'm not one of the guys that thinks the Bears need to draft a guy to "groom" as his replacement. When Urlacher hangs them up, you draft a stud to carry on the legacy, you don't pluck a 4th rounder to groom for a couple years. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Bears extend his deal for another couple years at some point in 2012.
Pro Football Focus gave 'Lach a +15.1 grade, good for 13th among the inside linebackers. His low mark of -3.6 as a pass rusher hurt him, but that's never been a big part of his game. Passes thrown against him netted a QB rating of 79.8, 7th best for the position. He only had 2 negatively graded games on the season, in weeks 5 and 6.
With how he lines up in some defensive packages, PFF graded a few of his snaps as an outside linebacker and he had a +1.2 playing as an OLB.
Lance Briggs - Signed through 2013 - Briggs is set to make $3.75 million this year and $6.25 in 2013, so he may pipe up about flipping the salaries again. Which I'm OK with because he's a player that separates business with football, and his on field play never suffers because of behind the scenes business.
Briggs was #14 among 4-3 OLBs with a +8.2 grade. He only had 3 overall negative games, and 3 negatively graded games in pass coverage which drug his coverage grade down to -1.5. Like Urlacher, his lack of a pass rush hurt his overall grade too. Briggs had a -1.6 in that aspect. No OLB in football played as many snaps as the 1,116 that Briggs did. I think the occasional blow may do him well moving forward in his career.
Nick Roach - Signed through 2012 - Roach was solid at the strong side OLB position for the Bears, grading out with a +2.5 and in 23rd place. Being the LB that comes off the field in passing downs limits his snaps, but he still managed the positive for his overall play. His coverage grade was -3.3, but he was actually 10th best in allowing just 69.2% of passes completed against him.
Dom DeCicco - Signed through 2013 - DeCicco was solid playing special teams last year, and he should be back in 2012. He was the #3 MLB, and with his athleticism I think the Bears will give him every opportunity to move up to #2.
J.T. Thomas - Signed through 2014 - The Bears gave Thomas the old red-shirt treatment, and Thomas gave the Bears a misdemeanor possession of marijuana arrest. Hopefully all the good he's done since his time in Chicago will outweigh the mistake he made. If the Bears forgive him, he'll be back competing for a roster spot in camp.
Patrick Trahan - Terms undisclosed - Say it with me now; Warm. Camp. Body. But seriously, he's got a shot at a spot depending on how they draft.
Jabara Williams - Signed through 2014 - The Bears were high on Williams when they plucked him off the waiver wire. His athleticism is promising, and at the very least he'll be in camp competing for a special teams spot.
2012 OUTLOOK - I would have no problem if the Bears drafted a linebacker as high as the 1st round if he were the best player on their board, but I don't think that's in the cards. They should draft a guy at some point to bring some talent in the mix, and I wouldn't expect them to go the free agent route.