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Chicago Bears 2023 Position Battles: Linebacking like it’s 2006!

In this 11-part training camp preview, we’ll go position by position examining the players on the Chicago Bears 90-man roster and their chances to make the team.

NFL: Chicago Bears Press Conference Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears don’t run the exact same Tampa 2 style of defense that Lovie Smith used during his nine-year stint in Chicago, but head coach Matt Eberflus values many of those same schematic philosophies. One of which is the middle and weakside linebackers are expected to be three-down impact players.

In year one of Eberflus’ scheme, defensive coordinator Alan Williams didn’t have the talent to run things how they wanted to, so they dove into free agency for a new Mike and Will linebacker.

Roster Locks

When the Bears signed Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, many analysts immediately went to the Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs comparison, and considering Eberflus’ coaching lineage, that’s exactly what the Bears are hoping they have.

“The length, the speed, the coverage ability in terms of just the space that he covers,” general manager Ryan Poles said via ESPN about Edmunds shortly after they signed him.

Those descriptors could easily have been about the way Urlacher manned the middle of Chicago’s defense during his Hall of Fame career.

In June, Bears linebacker coach Dave Borgonzi just went there when discussing his talented and athletic Edmunds.

“They’ve had a pretty big linebacker here before, I’ve heard, wearing No. 54, and he was 6-4 and change,” Borgonzi said via SI. “Look, when you play a lot of zone defense and you’re 6-4½, you can take up a lot of space and fill up windows in zone coverages. So it definitely helps the coverage part of it because he is such a big person.”

Edwards grew up a huge Bears fan in Lake Villa, Illinois, and the player he emulated when playing pick-up games with friends was Briggs. It has to be surreal that he’s not only playing for his favorite team but playing the same position as the seven-time Pro Bowler.

Briggs weighed in after the Bears signed these two linebackers to play in a similar scheme he and Urlacher did when winning the NFC Championship in 2006.

The strongside linebacker (Sam) seems to be the returning Jack Sanborn, but the Bears gave themselves some insurance with fifth-round draft pick Noah Sewell.

Free agent signee Dylan Cole brings versatility and special teams ability, which makes him a lock. Last year was a career season for Cole with the Titans when he racked up 64 tackles in 15 games (8 starts).

A good bet to make it

The Bears opened last season with six linebackers on the 53-man roster, but at times they carried seven.

On the bubble

DeMarquis Gates was a practice squadder most of last season, but he did make it into three games. Kuony Deng was added to their practice squad late last season, and at an athletic 6’6”, he has some untapped potential. Undrafted rookie Micah Baskerville, LSU’s leading tackler in 2022, rounds out the linebackers in camp.

Sterling Weatherford was signed off waivers last year before the regular season, and he made it into 14 games while playing in 63% of Chicago’s snaps on special teams. He didn’t make it in on defense, but he has the size (6’4”, 226), length, and athleticism this coaching staff covets.

Update: The Bears have signed linebacker Buddy Johnson, who is a former fourth-round pick of the Steelers in 2021. He spent 2022 on the practice squads of the 49ers and Texans. Weatherford was waived to make room for Johnson.

Which linebacker reserves do you think will make the week one roster?