As we continue with the unlikeliest (sneaky) most important Bears for the 2018 season, we finally have gotten to the most important of these unsung heroes. This is really a whole position group and a plea for one of them to step up. If you missed number 2 on defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, you can find that here.
It is no secret that the Bears defense is a little thin at the outside linebacker spot. That doesn’t mean that they have no talent there however. Sam Acho had his best season with the Bears last year, Aaron Lynch has been successful in the past, Isiah Irving showed some promise last season, and 6th-rounder Kylie Fitts was often talked about as a steal of the draft.
What this group lacks in proven performance, it more than makes up for in raw potential. But that’s all it has right now, even consensus number 1 outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is still a bundle of potential at this point. Somehow, some way, someone has to emerge from this group as a legitimate starter opposite of Floyd. The question comes down to which player it will be and how long until that player emerges.
My guess is that ultimately this group is going to have to combine to make a solid unit, but that still means that all of these players will have to play reasonably well instead of just one. When he was signed, I had a feeling that getting back to a better weight, mental state, and a comfortable defense, that Lynch would be the shoe-in as the other starter. Well, to this point, he has yet to practice in training camp. It’s still early, but it is a bit concerning.
The pick for the first man off the bench was Acho. The steady veteran is usually where he is supposed to be and does an excellent job against the run. Against the pass though, that’s still hit-and-miss. While he looks much improved in that area in camp so far, we won’t know until we hit the regular season if he can provide enough there to be considered the starter.
One of the camp darlings from last season, Irving got some opportunities late in the season. He didn’t do as much with the opportunities as I would have hoped, and did not record a sack in his rookie season (although he was a hair late versus Cleveland). Once again he is showing up in training camp, but this time against actual NFL starters. The hope here is that Irving shows enough to be considered as a rotational player that can offer some pass rushing when needed.
There is one player that has given me some hope and that’s Fitts. The issue that has plagued Fitts’ college career, and so far with the Bears, is injuries. I can say without hesitation that Fitts absolutely belongs in the NFL. He has a nice combination of length, strength, and quickness, plus he knows how to use his heavy hands to give himself room to work. If he can keep himself on the field, I have some hope that he eventually becomes a really nice piece on this defense.
The Bears have a lot of options, but are any one them enough? We are just under a week away from the Bears first preseason game, and the answers we are looking for at outside linebacker. I have my fingers crossed.