The Chicago Bears shifting to a 4-3 defense meant that their returning outside linebackers would be moving to defensive end, and that their returning inside linebackers would be shoehorned into the Mike, Will, or Sam backer position. There is some skill set carryover from a 3-4 inside linebacker to a 4-3 linebacker, but there’s still a transformation to be made.
The only two starting spots locked up seem to be Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow at the weakside and the middle, although the Bears haven’t been forthcoming about who will line up where. Ultimately it won’t matter much as they’ll be spending about 60% of their reps in nickel, but I am curious which player ends up with the green dot as the play caller and if Roquan will finally get that C on his chest as a year-long team captain.
Besides looking for a new contract, Smith will be looking for his first pro bowl after being named a 2nd-Team All Pro the last two years. I can’t imagine the Bears allowing Roquan’s holdout to linger, because at just 25-years old the Bears will get value out of his next contract even if he’s made one of the top paid off-ball linebackers in the game today.
Morrow is looking to bounce back after missing all of last season to injury while with the Raiders, but his athleticism and ability to play all three linebacking spots makes him an important piece of the new defense.
A good bet to make it
Matt Adams is probably in line to start at the Sam based on his previous experience working with Matt Eberflus from their time in Indianapolis, but his recent arrest for misdemeanor gun possession could open the door for one of the other linebackers to take that job. If Adams isn’t starting then his value to the team is lessened, and a backup with a pending legal matter may not be something the Bears want to deal with.
The Colts kept six linebackers to open the 2021 season, so if Eberflus is looking for the same that leaves an interesting battle to take place at this position.
On the bubble
Seven year pro Joe Thomas could have an inside track on a reserve role due to his experience and special teams play, but at 31-years old if a younger player proves adept in the third phase that could push Thomas out.
The Bears are the third NFL team for Noah Dawkins since being a UDFA in 2019, and his playing time has declined each year as a pro. Last season he only appeared in 2 games while spending most of the year on the Jets practice squad.
Caleb Johnson showed some special teams ability a season ago with the Bears, and his athletic profile should translate to the new scheme.
The Bears signed three UDFA rookies this offseason, Jack Sanborn, C.J. Avery, and Christian Albright, and of the three Wisconsin’s Sanborn seems like he has the upside to surprise and make the 53-man roster.
Who do you have making the 53-man roster at linebacker?