It's no secret that 2013 turns a new page in the storied history of the Chicago Bears as they begin a new era of football under the guidance of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman.
Part of this turnover includes the roster, seeing several instances of "out with the old, in with the new" and the linebacker position is no exception.
Brian Urlacher was let go and ultimately retired after 13 illustrious seasons with the Bears. At the strongside position, Nick Roach hit free agency and signed with the Raiders.
Suddenly, there was very little depth at linebacker.
But Emery dipped into the free agent market and brought in lots of youth in the draft and now the position appears to be solidified for the near future.
Let's see how it shakes out.
Starting Outside Linebacker #1: Lance Briggs (11th NFL Season)
Job Responsibilities: Cover the outside of the field, defending the run and helping in pass coverage as players come out of the backfield and occasionally a tight end. Follow the ball and make tackles.
Job So Far: He is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro. He continues to play at a high level despite turning 32 last season. With the departure of Urlacher he becomes the veteran presence in the linebacker corps.
Confidence Level: High. How can you have any less confidence in a seven-time Pro-Bowler? He is nearing the end of his prime but should still have a couple more good years. He has taken on a leadership role, including volunteering to make defensive calls for the team. There is little doubt he will still be playing at a high level this year.
Starting Middle Linebacker: D.J. Williams (10th Season)
Job Responsibilities: Be a fast, enforcing presence in the middle of the field. Play sideline-to-sideline defending the run and pass. Drop into coverage in the Cover-2 system and make plays.
Job So Far: Williams is in his first year with the Bears after spending the rest of his time with Denver. Off-field issues and coaching changes saw Williams have his least-productive season as a pro. However, at the age of 30 and on a one-year deal he should have plenty of motivation to play at a high level.
Confidence Level: High. Some might think that is optimistic but I look at it this way: Would you be more, less or have the same amount of confidence if this was still Urlacher? My answer is probably less. Urlacher was not himself last season and it wasn't likely to get better this year. Williams is younger and has plenty of reason to play well (the one-year "prove it" deal mentioned above and the youth nipping on his heels in rookie Jon Bostic).
Starting Outside Linebacker #2: James Anderson (8th Season)
Job Responsibilities: More or less the same as Briggs, playing the strongside he may have to play the pass a little more but in the Cover-2 system the outside 'backers have similar duties.
Job So Far: Anderson is also in his first year with the team, however during his time in Carolina he followed a similar trajectory as his Bears predecessor Roach; a solid starter and contributor.
Confidence Level: Low. While James can be a good contributor, he doesn't have a lot of stats that jump off the page at you. Last year he started 11 games but racked up only 38 tackles (According to PFR). When he started 15 and 16 games in the previous two seasons he registered 98. He isn't a big turnover creator either, having only three career INTs and five forced fumbles. He could be looking over his shoulder at Khaseem Greene all year.
Back up Linebackers: Jon Bostic (Rookie), Blake Costanzo (7th season), Jerry Franklin (2nd season), Khaseem Greene (Rookie), J.T. Thomas (3rd season), Patrick Trahan (3nd season), Lawrence Wilson (2nd season)
Job Responsibilities: Fill in at positions because of injury. Know the responsibilities and defensive calls for a seamless transition. The rookies are focused on learning one position to help speed their development. All the back up linebackers must provide special teams depth.
Job So Far: Very few of these guys have much NFL experience, even less so on defense as opposed to special teams. Trahan has seven career appearances, no starts, Franklin appeared in three games last year, Thomas appeared in all 16 games last season with no starts and Costanzo, the veteran of the back up group, has 75 career appearances with a single start. That start was last year, against the Packers and was forgettable, he doesn't appear in PFR's box score of the game.
Confidence Level: Zero. While there is some potential in this group, mostly in rookies Bostic and Greene, it's hard to have anything other than zero confidence. The lack of successful starting experience does not ease my concerns for this group. Any long term injuries or off-field issues that lead to suspensions could decimate this group quickly. If there is poor play from a starter, fans could clamor for one of the rookies but it's unlikely they will contribute at a high level yet.
Overall Confidence Level: Low. I am just too weary of what we will get from this group. Anderson is at best a lateral move from Roach, Williams could turn out to be a lateral move from a 35-year-old Urlacher as well. Briggs is the only linebacker I feel confident can play 16 games at a high level. The depth has so many unknowns. Linebacker could shape up to be the most concerning defensive position group.
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