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Chicago Bears 2019 Position Battles: Will a young outside linebacker emerge?

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Next up in our Chicago Bears position by position training camp preview are the outside linebackers.

NFL: MAY 29 Chicago Bears OTA Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have some young outside linebackers in camp and they really need one to emerge to solidify the position.

Roster Locks

Am I allowed to still be fired up that the Bears traded for Khalil Mack last September? Just imagine how much better he’ll be with a full training camp under his belt and the taste of a playoff defeat driving him to be the best he can be.

“I want to be the best,” he said via the team’s website. “A part of being the best is working hard along with talent. That’s what I’ve been taught throughout my whole career. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Sure, it may be cliché, but it’s true, and Mack leads by example with how hard he works. “You’ve got a phenomenal athlete (in Mack),” said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano from ChicagoBears.com. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate and he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. He’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up.”

Pagano will likely move Mack around the defense a bit more than Vic Fangio did a year ago, and I expect another All-Pro nod in 2019 for number 52.

No player has received more offseason hype than Leonard Floyd, ad if he can play 2019 like he did in the second half of 2018, then the Bears are going to give opposing offenses a lot more to think about. After being a Pro Bowl alternate last year, Floyd impressed the coaching staff during OTAs and the minicamps. It’s starting to look like his best football is ahead of him.

“He’s steadily getting better,” general manager Ryan Pace said Sunday during his pre-camp press conference. “If you said—and I know it’s hard with just shorts on—what player, non-rookie, stood out to you in this offseason program, it would be Leonard Floyd. Just as he develops his pass rush, as he develops his counters, working with [coach] Ted Monachino, working with Khalil Mack, I just feel like he’s getting better and better. And so that’s going to be exciting to see, specifically in his pass rush. I just feel like his repertoire, his toolbox, has grown.”

The Bears brought Aaron Lynch back on a $1.5 million deal after letting him test the market, and he’s the only reliable back up OLB on the roster. He played decent a year ago, and his experience makes him a valuable backup.

A good bet to make it

The Bears opened the 2018 season with six outside linebackers on the roster, but I thought they were kind of thin at the position. Besides Mack, Floyd and to a much lesser extent, Lynch, I didn’t expect any of the reserves to make a play when called upon.

Isaiah Irving probably has the best odds to stick around since he played over 40% of Chicago’s special team’s snaps a year ago. He played in 13 games in 2018 and he picked up the first sack of his career.

I think everyone else on the roster is fighting for their NFL livelihood.

On the bubble

I liked the Kylie Fitts selection in 2018 NFL Draft (6th-round), but he couldn’t break through and win much playing time as a rookie. He was only active for a few games and he played only 83 total snaps. I’m hoping that him being another year removed from his knee injury will allow us to see a higher ceiling type of player.

Buffalo’s Chuck Harris has some upside as a developmental pass rusher. He had 4 sacks as a junior, and 6.5 during an injury plagued senior season. At his pro day he ran in the 4.6 range, so he can bring some speed off the edge.

James Vaughters had some success as a defensive lineman in the CFL, with 11 sacks in two years, but the Bears are the fourth NFL team he’s been with and he’s yet to stick on a roster.

Matt Betts had some crazy tape from his Canadian college Laval, but he’s making a big jump in competition. He might be a guy that needs a year of seasoning on the practice squad before having a real shot.

Of all the bubble guys, I thought Fitts looked the best when I was at camp on Sunday, but he’ll need to keep it up.