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Chicago Bears 2016 Position Battles: Are the Outside Linebackers ready to dominate?

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Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

In order for Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense to really thrive, he needs his outside linebackers playing at a high level. This is a reason that the first big move by Chicago Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace was to acquire Pernell McPhee for him. When McPhee was signed last year, he was set to be the cornerstone of their brand new 3-4 defense for the next several years. Even though he struggled through a knee injury in the second half of the season, he brought the Bears exactly what they needed.

Having good OLBs is also why the Bears moved up in the 2016 NFL Draft to take Leonard Floyd. With Floyd adding a speed element to an already solid group of outside linebackers, I think Fangio may have the talent he covets to get even more creative with his scheme.

Roster Locks

McPhee, who has been recovering from knee surgery, should be 100% relatively soon. Once he’s ready, he’ll man one of the two starting OLB spots just like he did in 2015. The other spot was split between Sam Acho (7 starts) and Wille Young (8 starts) last year, but I only have Young as a roster lock. He’s just too good a pass rusher to part ways with.

Lamarr Houston makes a lot of money for a backup, but he proved to be a good player last year in the second half when he racked up 7 sacks in the Bears last nine games, to end up with 8 to lead the team. Young had 5.5 sacks and an interception in his last eight contests to also finish strong. Both these guys started slow as they were still each rehabbing, but their good finishes to the 2015 season should lead to some confidence and a bigger role this year.

The aforementioned Floyd is probably the best cover OLB on the roster, as he excelled in that area at Georgia, but the Bears will probably simply ask him to attack quarterbacks in the early part of his rookie season.

A good bet to make it

Even though I don’t have Acho as a lock, I do think his special teams ability gives him a leg up on the other OLBs in camp. He played in almost 63% of the Bears’ special teams snaps last year, making 7 total 3rd phase tackles. He was also active on defense, playing in 43% of those snaps, with 32 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.

On the bubble

The Bears opened the 2015 season with five OLBs, so all these bubble guys will really need to impress.

Christian Jones looked promising as an undrafted free agent playing 4-3 OLB in 2014, but he looked lost at times last year as an ILB in Fangio’s 3-4. This season the Bears have moved him to OLB, so maybe his scheme versatility gives him an edge. He did play some defensive end in college, so rushing the passer off the edge isn’t completely new.

Roy Robertson-Harris is currently listed at OLB on the Bears website, but earlier this off-season he was listed at defensive line. I think OLB is a good fit for the athletic 6’7”, 268 pounder, but he played with his hand in the dirt at UTEP. His upside may sneak him on the 53 man roster over Acho if he can take to special teams.

What do you guys see happening at the outside linebacker position for the Bears?