The Chicago Bears' defense made huge strides this year with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio implementing his favored 3-4 defense. After forever being a 40 front team, the Bears transitioned to just three down linemen in their base package last year. The Bears were 30th in total yards per game in 2014, but jumped to 14th in 2015, and they shaved nearly 3 points allowed per game off their 2014 total.
This was done with some mismatched, learning on the fly players, all while evaluating the young players on the roster for the future.
The defense has some talent gaps, but none more evident -- according to your vote -- than inside linebacker. Linebacker was voted as the #1 need last off season too, and the Bears went out and plucked Pernell McPhee to play outside linebacker. He struggled through a knee injury, but the Bears were clearly better with him on the field.
The Bears currently have the following players under contract at the inside linebacker position. Christian Jones, John Timu, Jonathan Anderson and Lamin Barrow. Neither of them showed enough for the Bears to expect them to lock down the ILB position in 2016. I like the potential that Timu and Anderson flashed, but they both still have a far way to go as professional players.
Here are a few free agents the Bears could target at ILB.
Denver's Danny Trevathan (6'1", 240) is the one guy that is consistently linked to the Bears' free agency needs at inside linebacker, mostly because of his history with Bears head coach John Fox. Fox coached him for three years, but the Broncos will do everything in their power to keep the 25 year old budding star.
With Von Miller also a free agent, and fellow ILB Brandon Marshall a restricted free agent, the Broncos may not have the kind of money available to pay the three LBs enough to stay. Here's what NFL.com has to say about Trevathan;
Trevathan is a three-down linebacker entering his prime that can hold up in pass coverage. We're big fans of his skill set and he's just the type of above-average starter that gets paid like a superstar in free agency.
The Bears may have to overpay to get their guy, but that's the norm in free agency.
The Chiefs' 33 year old Derrick Johnson has three Pro Bowls on his resume and he had a very good 2015 season after missing most of 2014 with an Achilles injury.
Rolando McClain missed 5 games for the Cowboys in 2015, but he still managed 80 tackles.
Shea McClellin was talked up a lot by the coaches so he could be an option to return. Mason Foster is back among the free agents this offseason after starting 5 games for the Redskins in 2015.
2016 DRAFT PROSPECTS
Our very own EJ Snyder has already spotlighted two potential 1st round talents at inside linebacker in his fabulous Draftwatch series. For more on Alabama's Reggie Ragland or UCLA's Myles Jack, you can click here and here. Another potential first rounder is Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith, who some scouts believe can play any linebacker spot in any scheme. The issue with Smith is a recent ACL and MCL tear in his left knee.
A few prospects that could be had later in the draft are Temple's Tyler Matakevich, Arizona's Scooby Wright III and Utah's Jared Norris. All three are heady, aggressive players, but overall athleticism is a question mark.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bears sign an inside linebacker and bring in a rookie or two. In order for Vic Fangio to truly run his scheme the way he wants to, he needs talent at ILB.
Who are some inside linebackers you have your eye on?
Also be sure to vote in the poll with the position you believe is Chicago #2 need this offseason.