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Chicago Bears 2021 Position Battles: Outside linebacker should be much improved

Part 10 in our eleven-part position battles series is all about the outside linebackers.

Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Last year the Chicago Bears got stellar play from their All-Pro Khalil Mack, but behind him there wasn’t much of anything of note at outside linebacker. The Bears are returning their other starter, who is now healthy, but they made a move to upgrade the third guy off the bench, and their 2020 fifth round pick is looking to make a jump in play this season.

Roster Locks

Mack meets the media the same way he plays the game of football, with a serious intensity. “Talking about it is not something I’m accustomed to,” Mack said when asked about how the Bears can get their defense playing better after a down year in 2020. “I’m an action guy, so I’m not gonna say shit, I’ll show you better than I can tell you.”

When asked if all the injuries affected his play last year — he was on the injury report just about every week — Mack wasn’t about to make any excuses. “I’m out there, I’m 100%,” Mack said. “I’m not blaming anything on anything.”

Even with the nagging injuries (ankle, back, knee and shoulder) Mack was dominant, and I expect to see him dominating again in 2021.

Mack would benefit if the OLB playing on the opposite side, Robert Quinn, could bounce back from his worst season as a pro. A foot injury sapped some of Quinn’s quickness a year ago, but if he’s right he can be a difference maker. The Bears are probably going to use him more in a specialized pass rushing role and scale back some of his early down work now that they have Jeremiah Attaochu under contract.

Attaochu has starting experience in his career, and after playing for Vic Fangio the last two years he’s familiar with the scheme the Bears will be running under defensive coordinator Sean Desai. He had 5 sacks in 2020 while playing in just 38% of Denver’s defensive snaps.

Trevis Gipson played sparingly as a rookie last year, but he’s started to turn some heads this offseason. “For Trevis, the biggest thing for him is reps,” Desai said via the team’s site. “He’s doing a great job learning. He’s doing a great job working out and looks strong and all that. But this is still football and we need to play football to get good at football, so that’s going to be an emphasis for him.” Last year was his first as a linebacker, so he should be more comfortable this season.

A good bet to make it

The Bears have carried 6, 5, and 4 at this position the last three years, so there’s no telling what they’ll do. Christian Jones’ ability to play both inside and outside linebacker could come into play when the Bears finalize their opening roster.

On the bubble

James Vaughters made himself part of the defensive rotation last year, but he also chipped in with 34% of the snaps on special teams. His third phase ability could get him a spot on the team come week one.

Undrafted free agent Charles Snowden was one of the more high profile UDFAs in the 2021 class. A broken ankle caused him to fall out of the draft, but he certainly looks the part of an NFL player at an athletic 6’7”, 240 pounds. I can see the Bears giving him the old red-shirt rookie year, but if he can take to special teams I could see him making the roster as the fifth OLB.

Ledarius Mack returns to the Bears after spending all of last season on the practice squad. His skill set says edge, but his size (6’1”, 237) says inside linebacker. I think another year on the practice squad is in the cards for him in 2021.

What do you guys think the Bears will do at outside linebacker this year?