Lance Briggs - Signed through 2014 - Briggs suffered through his worst season as a pro, but there was just so much bad going on around him that his play could have been a product of his environment. As the weak side outside linebacker in the Chicago Bears defensive scheme, he's the guy that needs to be flying around making plays. But when so many of his teammates are failing in their job, there's not a lot of plays out there to be made.
His first 10 years in the league he missed four games, but in the 2013 season he missed seven. His first game back from injury he was clearly laboring and was a step slow, but the next week he seemed to bounce back. The Bears desperately need a healthy Briggs back playing at a high level in 2014. He's a captain of the team and the defensive signal caller. Regardless of the type of defense the Bears roll out there in 2014, the leadership of Briggs will be a welcome sight.
Briggs had his 2nd worst graded season in his career according to Pro Football Focus at a neutral 0.4, which was 18th among 4-3 OLBs. He left some plays out on the field as his 18 missed tackles was tied for 4th worst, but remember this is a guy that is able to get to more plays that some of his contemporaries. With so many Bear defenders not staying in their gaps, it made it tough for anyone to make plays.
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was forced to blitz on passing downs to get any pressure, and Briggs set a career high in sacks with three. While rushing the passer hasn't been a big part of his game, it was good to see him have some effectiveness.
James Anderson - Free agent - Anderson started out the year looking like he would be a solid replacement for Nick Roach, but his play kind of tapered off in my opinion. I thought he was solid in pass coverage all season long, but it was in the run game where he seemed to suffer. It's plausible that the poor play in front of him and next to him hurt his play, but he was making rookie mistakes. Overrunning plays, missing his run fits and being fooled by misdirection happened far too often for an eight year veteran.
PFF had Anderson graded well in pass coverage at a +8.6, but his overall -16.4 was 33rd in the NFL among 4-3 OLBs. He had two games in the green (positively graded), and those came in the first three weeks of the season. Nine of his last 13 games received a negative overall grade.
Phil Emery and the coaching staff will really need to pour over the tape to see if Anderson deserves a 2nd contract. I think there's a good chance he returns on a similar one year deal.
D.J. Williams - Free agent - Williams had a slow start to his year after suffering a preseason injury, then another injury cost him the final 10 games of the 2013 season. He had some nice moments last year, but he wan't consistent. Unless the Bears have a better plan at middle linebacker, I think they'll try to bring back Williams.
He graded out at -3.1 in his six games according to PFF, but I thought he played much better than his rookie replacement.
Jon Bostic - Signed through 2016 - The Bears drafted Bostic with the intention of easing him into a prominent role on defense. He was supposed to play special teams for a season while he learned from the veteran linebackers in front of him on the depth chart. That plan went out the window when he was forced into a starting role for the week seven game against Washington. He struggled all season long, and while he looked like he belonged physically, he wasn't mentally ready to play professional football.
PFF had Bostic down at 51st overall among inside linebackers with a -17.2. The one area he wasn't in the red was in coverage, where he graded a neutral 0.9. Chicago GM Phil Emery mentioned at his post season press conference that Bostic may be better off playing outside linebacker, but if he's moved that would leave a void in the middle. I think he stays at the Mike for the 2014 season.
Khaseem Greene - Signed through 2016 - Greene played in a Tampa 2 scheme in college, so he should have recognized some of the stuff the Bears were doing. He had his share of rookie mistakes, but there was a physical problem with him as well. I think the speed of the game took some getting used to for him, and he needs to get a bit stronger. He's plenty athletic enough to play in the NFL, so I think this off season will do his game wonders.
Greene received defensive snaps in nine games, and he didn't register one green category from PFF. He was a -9.6 overall, with three games in the red. I do like his potential, and think he's a keeper next year.
Blake Costanzo - Free agent - Costanzo was signed to be a core special teamer, and that's where most of his playing time was as a Bear. He had the highest ST grade on the Bears at +6.0. He also had 24 defensive snaps last season which graded out with a -2.3 in three games.
I think the Bears would rather replace his special teams production with a cheaper, younger player.
Jerry Franklin - Signed through 2014 - Franklin didn't receive any snaps on defense last year, but he did play 192 on special teams. PFF had him with a neutral -0.5 grade with five special teams tackles. He was promoted off the practice squad after D.J. Williams was placed on injured reserve, and his future appears to be as a back up inside linebacker.
I'm sure Franklin will be around for the 2014 off season, but his spot on the roster is far from guaranteed.
Lawrence Wilson - Signed a reserve/future contract - Wilson is a smallish OLB that is on his 5th professional team since being a 6th round draft pick in 2011. At 6'1" and 229 pounds he'll need to impress on special teams this training camp. He's a long shot to make the team.
Shea McClellin - Signed through 2015 - The McClellin as a 4-3 defensive end experiment is over. Phil Emery said that they will shift him to strong side outside linebacker for the 2014 season. When McClellin was drafted I thought it was to play the Sam, and then rush the passer on 3rd down, much like former Bear Roosevelt Colvin.
McClellin's problems at DE would would be the same problems he'd have as a 3-4 OLB. He has issues setting the edge and he struggles getting off blocks. The thinking is that getting him off the line as a 4-3 OLB will allow him to use his athleticism and let him chase the ball carrier. He just has to stay in his assigned gap and attack when there's a play in front of him. He'll need to work on his zone awareness and man to man coverage skills. As the Sam, there will be times he's asked to cover.
PFF had him at a -28.4 in 2013 after being -2.9 as a rookie. I don't think he regressed so much as he was exposed. Time will tell if this is the right call, but I don't think he can do any worse than he did at DE.
2014 OUTLOOK - The Bears will need to sign a few veteran linebackers, unless they are really ready to hand over major roles to Bostic and Greene. I think Williams and Anderson will be in play, but they'll also scour the other free agents available. Former Patriots ILB Brandon Spikes is a guy that could play on 1st and 2nd down, and his price shouldn't be that high.
Shea McClellin is a real wild card in their off season plans. They'll no doubt have to insure themselves at the position just in case his transition is a failure, but they don't want to pay a premium for a strong side linebacker just to have him play as a back up.
The draft is an option, but I think they'll bring in a rookie or two via the undrafted free agency route instead.
What do you think the Bears will do at the linebacker position in 2014?
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