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Chicago Bears 2021 Roster Turnover: Will an inside linebacker step up?

In this 13 part series we’ll take an in depth look at each position group for the Chicago Bears with an eye towards the 2021 season. We’ll speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions we’d like to see general manager Ryan Pace make.

NFL: OCT 04 Colts at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A year ago the Chicago Bears had three inside linebackers all reach free agency at the same time, and they only elected to re-sign one of them. Nick Kwiatkoski left for the Las Vegas Raiders and Kevin Pierre-Lewis was off to Washington. Kwiatkoski was voted a team captain his first year in Vegas and he set a career high with 81 tackles in 12 games (all starts), and Pierre-Louis also had a career year with 56 tackles in 13 games (11 starts).

The Bears were fortunate that both their starting inside backers played and started all sixteen games in 2020, but there were a few times when the Bears had to turn to the backups, and neither were able to impress.

Chicago can’t count on both their ILBs making it all the way through the 2021 season unscathed, so they’ll need a viable reserve to get some reps.

Here’s where the Bears currently stand at the inside linebacker position.

Danny Trevathan - Signed through 2022 - The Bears choose to re-up the nine-year veteran Trevathan last offseason, and after a very slow start he settled in and racked up 113 tackles. Early on he seemed to have lost a step in pass coverage, but that could have been the affects of him not having a regular offseason and training camp. After ending his 2019 season on injured reserve he could have used all the OTAs and minicamps to help get back into football shape. The Bears pulled him on some obvious passing downs, which is something I think could continue in 2021 for the soon to be 31-year old.

Trevathan’s contract has three extra void years added to his deal which helps their cap situation now, but at some point that cost will come due.

Roquan Smith - Signed through 2021, but the Bears have a 2022 5th year option - Roquan played at a high level in 2020 and he was rewarded with a 2nd-Team All-Pro selection. He filled the stat sheet with 139 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 6 QB hits, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Smith won’t turn 24 until April and he’s still an ascending player.

Josh Woods - Exclusive rights free agent - Woods was a UDFA in 2018, and after spending all of that season on the practice squad, he made final 53 the last two years. He finally played some defense in 2020 (46) snaps, but he played 60% of their special team’s snaps. As an ERFA, I think he’ll be back to compete in camp for a spot. EDIT: Woods was brought back for 2021.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe - Signed through 2021 - Iggy was second on the team with 10 special teams tackles, but as a former 4th-round pick, I think the Bears were expecting more from him on defense. In his three year career he only had played a total of 49 snaps on D. He’s a core special teamer, so he’ll definitely be around all offseason, but unless he shows improvement as a defender his spot on the roster is far from guaranteed.

2021 OUTLOOK - The Bears need a reserve inside linebacker this offseason, because it doesn’t seem like they trust either Woods or Iyiegbuniwe to play any meaningful reps on defense. With the cap dropping the Bears might luck into a released veteran looking for a reserve role in 2021, but I would also expect them to look to the rookie pool.

Inside linebackers aren’t valued as much as they used to be, so if Georgia’s Monty Rice is still there on day three, he might be a prospect worth picking.

If they don’t draft an ILB, they need to get a couple inside guys in camp from the UDFA market for sure.

Also with the way the game is changing, I would hope the Bears could target a safety/linebacker hybrid player that can play in some big nickel or dime looks.

What do you guys think the Bears will do at this position in 2021?