Last year the inside linebacker position for the Chicago Bears was manned by a converted defensive end turned outside linebacker for 11 starts (Shea McClellin) and a converted outside linebacker for 13 starts (Christian Jones). Others getting 1st team nods at ILB were a couple rookie undrafted free agents for 3 starts apiece (John Timu and Jonathan Anderson) and an ex-Jaguar signed to bolster special teams with 1 start (LaRoy Reynolds).
They all did so well at the position last year that the Bears signed Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman to take over. These two were arguably the best inside linebackers on the market.
McClellin was allowed to leave via free agency, Jones was moved to outside linebacker and Reynolds was allowed to walk as well. Timu and Anderson are still around, but they're both low salaried players that will fight for a back up / special teams role.
In Trevathan and Freeman the Bears have two legitimate professional linebackers. The emerging 26 year old Travathan had 32 starts the last three years for the Denver Broncos, including 15 at ILB last year in their Super Bowl winning 3-4 defense. The 30 year old Freeman had 57 ILB starts since 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts. Trevathan missed most of 2014 with an injury, but he had 129 tackles in 2013 and 109 in 2015. Freeman has missed 7 games the last two years, but he still averaged 119.5 tackles per year from 2012-2015.
These two have been highly productive players and both will provide leadership and playmaking ability in the middle of Vic Fangio's defense. The two should also be interchangeable with Fangio's Mike and Jack position, where the Mike is more the downhill run plugger while the Jack is the guy that is a bit more versatile in blitzing and coverage. Both Trevathan and Freeman can cover, blitz and play physical much like Fangio's duo in San Francisco, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The Bears twosome haven't received the kind of individual accolades like the 49ers' duo has, but if Chicago's defense improves that may be coming.
I'm grouping the two inside linebackers together on my Most Important list, because even though Trevathan was the "prize" free agent pick up, Freeman has proven to be just as good, if not a better, player. Bears' fans should get a kick out of these two running around making plays, especially after watching last year's tandem stumble around the field.
I'm expecting some really good football from Chicago's new front seven this year, what about you guys?