Last season the Chicago Bears had two rookie linebackers gain valuable experience. Neither played very well, but they were thrown into the fire nonetheless. This year the Bears elected to stay away from the position in the draft, but they still ended up getting a new 1st rounder at the position when Shea McClellin moved from his defensive end spot.
With McClellin under contract for two more seasons, his upside keeps him around even if he can't win a starting job. He's in a battle with Jon Bostic for the strong side outside linebacker position, and Bostic is also in the mix at middle linebacker. I think the Bears would love it if these two players each won a starting job outright. So far McClellin may be the early leader at the Sam in Chicago's base D, and Bostic appears to be the Mike in the nickel.
Lance Briggs will begin his 12th season in Chicago looking for his 8th Pro Bowl appearance. He had an outstanding day at practice yesterday and early reports have him playing some very good football. The Bears will rely on his leadership and experience in 2014.
A good bet to make it
D.J. Williams was been running with the ones at the Mike and if he wasn't 32 years old and coming and off of an injury, I'd call him a lock. He's healthy right now and his play against the run is better than the young players vying for his job. I think he sticks around regardless of whether he wins the starter's job or not, but I would not be surprised if the Bears let him go if he's beaten out for the middle.
On the bubble
The Bears usually keep six linebackers so it will be a fierce battle at the bottom of the depth chart this year.
The Bears signed Jordan Senn to be a core special teamer and that'll be his best bet to stick on the roster. Chicago has always had that one reserve linebacker that excels on special teams, so keeping him around solely for that wouldn't be out of the ordinary. He did start 7 games at OLB for the Panthers in 2011, so he has that experience going for him.
I think Khaseem Greene came back very motivated after a sub-par rookie season. He's in better shape, but he'll have to prove versatile enough to back up multiple spots this year.
In Jerry Franklin's two years as a Bear he's only played on the special teams. In 2012 he logged 45 snaps and last year he was up to 192. He will need to hold off some athletic undrafted free agents this off season.
The Bears have three such players in camp. Wisconsin's Conor O'Neill, South Florida's DeDe Lattimore and Florida State's Christian Jones. Jones is the most intriguing of the three. He projected to be a mid round draft pick, but there was a diluted drug test at the combine that caused the 6'3", 240 pounder to slip off teams' boards. So far in camp his athleticism and hard work is causing him to stand out. I can't wait to see him running around in preseason.
Which bubble players do you think the Bears open the season with?