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Chicago Bears 2020 Position Battles: Outside linebacker finally has some depth

We continue our 11-part position by position breakdown of the Chicago Bears’ 80-man training camp roster right here with the outside linebackers...

Image from Trevis Gipson’s Twitter

It seems like the Chicago Bears have been searching for a legit number two edge rusher ever since they switched to a 3-4 base defense before the 2015 season. Technically speaking, they were searching for a consistent number one pass rushing outside linebacker before the Khalil Mack trade, and guys like Pernell McPhee, Lamaar Houston, Willie Young, and Leonard Floyd all tried to take that top dog status, but the best any of those four did at OLB was the eight sacks from Houston his first year with Vic Fangio calling the defense.

This year the Bears not only have two terrors coming off the edge, but they have a solid backup with some experience at the position, plus they finally have an upside rookie that had 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 9 quarterback hurries, and 7 forced fumbles his last two years in college.

Roster Locks

You have to go back over 25 years to find the last time the Bears had two players each get double digit sacks in the same season. That was 1993 when Richard Dent had 12.5 while Trace Armstrong chimed in with 11.5, and that combined 24 sacks is a nice target for Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn to shoot for in 2020. Mack’s career high is 15 which he set in 2015 with the Raiders, and Quinn’s best mark was the 19 sacks he picked up 2013.

Last year Quinn had 11.5 sacks with the Cowboys while Mack had a disappointing 8.5 here in Chicago, but with each rushing opposite the other on the Bears front-line I think 24 combined sacks is attainable.

Keeping these two fresh to rush the passer will be critical for fourth quarter’s of games, and that’s where Barkevious Mingo comes in. He’s nowhere near the pass rusher that Mack and Quinn are, but he’s a solid veteran that has played in 110 games in his career with 37 starts. He’s found his NFL niche as a core special teamer, but in 2017 and 2018 he played about 50% of his teams defensive snaps in Indianapolis and Seattle. Think about what Sam Acho did in Chicago when wondering what Mingo will bring to the 2020 Bears.

Earlier today outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino mentioned Mingo as a guy that’s in the mix for the third OLB spot with two other players, but there’s no way he’s not making the 53-man roster.

A good bet to make it

Last year the Bears opened the season with only four outside linebackers, but in 2018 they came into week one with six at the position. I don’t think they roll with only four this year, because they’re going to develop the aforementioned upside rookie, Trevis Gipson, on the active roster. As a 5th-round draft pick, Gipson is likely penciled in as either the fourth or fifth OLB, and the only way they try to sneak him through to the practice squad is if he seriously struggles adjusting to playing out of a two-point stance.

Bears area scout Breck Ackley broke Gipson down with play by play man Jeff Joniak earlier this spring in this video right here.

On the bubble

The two players Monachino mentioned as vying for that third outside backer job with Mingo are Isaiah Irving and James Vaughters. Irving has played about nine snaps on defense in each game he’s appeared in the last two years, but he’s averaged about 40% of the team’s special teams snaps during that time. If the Bears go with five at the position I think Irving makes it.

After being cut and re-signed several times in 2019, Vaughters is back this offseason to try to show some of the pass rush skills that helped him rack up 11 sacks in two years with the Calgary Stampeders (2017-2018). He had a couple ‘right time-right place’ plays last preseason, and he did get three special team’s tackles in the three games he played in for the Bears a year ago.

LaCale London, a UDFA defensive lineman from Western Illinois (and Peoria High School), is transitioning to outside linebacker this offseason. With his frame (6’5”, 280) he brings a different skill set to the position.

I mentioned UDFA Keandre Jones in my inside linebacker article because of his tweener size (6’3”, 220), but he was more of an edge during his time at Maryland so I think he sticks as a developmental pass rusher on the practice squad.

I mentioned Ledarius Mack in my ILB article too, but at Buffalo he was a situational pass rusher and special teamer, so he may end up in the OLB room.

How many players do you think the Bears keep at the position in 2020?