The linebacker depth took a hit earlier this week with the release of Hunter Hillenmeyer. With his history of concussions I hope he seriously considers retirement. The Vanderbilt grad will have a plethora of opportunities awaiting after football and after nearly a full year away from the game this would be the perfect time to transition away from his playing career.
The Bears will have some work to do this off season with only two linebackers under contract. Will they dip into free agency, look to the draft, or both?
Thanks to the fine folks over at Pro Football Focus, I'll be able to give a different perspective on the players by showcasing their grading system.
Brian Urlacher - signed through 2012 - Has there ever been a marriage between a defensive scheme and a player that matched so well like the Tampa 2 does with Urlacher? His skill set is made for what Lovie Smith wants him to do, but he would thrive in any system. He made a statement with his play in 2010. He is worthy of Canton.
Pro Football Focus had Urlacher with a +21.4 grade on his 2010 season, good for 8th among all inside linebackers. He had a positive grade on all aspects of his game.
Lance Briggs - signed through 2013 - With his 6th straight Pro Bowl, Briggs is starting to make a case for his Hall of Fame argument too. Briggs was the 7th rated 4-3 OLB according to PFF with a +9.1 grade. His pass rushing received a neutral grade, but the Bears don't really ask him to do that very often. His pass coverage also received a neutral grade, but the QB rating of quarterbacks throwing into his coverage was a 6th best 78.7.
Pisa Tinoisamoa - free agent - Pisa did an adequate job on the strong side, but I'm not sure if the Bears want to go into another season with the oft injured OLB. PFF had him as the 17th best 4-3 OLB with a +5.8, but I think the Bears may look want to allow him to leave via free agency.
Nick Roach - free agent - I think the Bears should bring back Roach and let him have a shot at the strong side OLB job. PFF had him with a +2.5 on the season and he has shown he could be a starter in the NFL when given an opportunity.
Brian Iwuh - free agent - In his limited defensive snaps (86 according to PFF), he had a +6.2. Besides his stellar special teams play he showed the ability to step in and play defense when called on. I hope he ends up back in Chicago next year. Check out fellow WCG writer Kev's look at Iwuh right here.
Rod Wilson - free agent - Wilson was signed last September due to his familiarity with the system to add some linebacker depth and to play special teams. He's played 4 years in Chicago, but his time may be done.
Chris Johnson - signed a reserve/future contract - Say it with me... Warm. Camp. Body.
Patrick Trahan - signed a reserve/future contract - Just say it again...
2011 OUTLOOK - With just the two proven players under contract, linebacker is a need position heading into the off season. I think they need start by resigning Roach and Iwuh. Roach can play all three LB spots, and Iwuh is a valuable special teams player and would bring solid OLB depth. I wouldn't expect any outside free agents to be brought in other than maybe a couple undrafted rookies. With this draft class being so deep at linebacker, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bears take a guy late if someone of note slips to them. I joke about them above, but Johnson or Trahan could make the team with a good showing in preseason.
I do not think the Bears need to look for Urlachers eventual replacement. The idea of drafting a MLB in the later rounds so he can learn from 'Lach, and be brought along slowly isn't a good idea. When #54 decides to hang them up, the Bears will draft someone in the 1st or 2nd round to fill that premier position.