Thursday, July 3, 2014
Pre-camp check: Linebacker
By Michael C. Wright ESPN.com
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.
During the team's time of inactivity, we'll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:
Lance Briggs may be the only Bears linebacker who is guaranteed starting job.
Linebacker overview: The coaching staff says two of the three starting spots are up for grabs with Will linebacker Lance Briggs as the only player assured of a gig with the No. 1 defense in 2014. Despite those openings, it appears that D.J. Williams will win the starting job at middle linebacker with Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin competing for the start at Sam; a battle that is expected to be won by Bostic.
Bears coach Marc Trestman considers Williams the frontrunner to win the starting middle linebacker position. But McClellin and Bostic have also taken reps there.
"I'm just hoping he can be 100 percent. He's had an offseason to work, he's been out there competing hard, and when he's playing well, it's visibly noticeable in terms of what we can do with the middle linebacker position," Trestman said. "But we have competition there. He's certainly the lead dog there. But we do have competition."
Battle to watch: The most compelling of the competitions at this position is certainly the one between Bostic and McClellin at Sam linebacker. Bostic probably projects more as a Will linebacker, but with Briggs already at that spot, the team could benefit greatly by having both players on the field at the same time. McClellin appears to have transitioned well from defensive end to linebacker, but it's unknown whether he possesses that run-and-hit skillset that is coveted by this team at the position. During organized team activities and minicamps, contact wasn't allowed. So it was difficult to get an idea of where McClellin might ultimately fit in the team's plans.
"He's going to be a typical 4-3 linebacker for us," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "I see him as probably more of a blitzer than maybe a four-down rusher. But he will have some edge rush opportunities."
So while it's likely Bostic will earn the start (he's clearly the most athletic linebacker on the roster), McClellin could find himself in some of the team's sub packages as an extra pass-rusher.
Dark horse:Christian Jones receives this designation only because he went undrafted out of Florida State. During minicamps and organized team activities, Jones was impressive and could actually fight for time on the field if given a legitimate opportunity by the staff.
A three-year starter at FSU, Jones started games at all three linebacker positions and defensive end, posting 151 tackles as a sophomore and junior. Jones moved to defensive end as a senior.
"Where we're at is this: We've got a long of players that are committed to this franchise that are really working hard," Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "It's become competitive at every position. Every day they come and it's a fight, a battle. We've got a young Jones player from Florida State, who is doing an incredible job and flashes and shows he has a chance to be a good player. We are building depth here through competition and it's a process. How we end up here, we're developing a picture in our mind, but we're not ready to say because it is still a competitive situation when we get back to training camp. If you want me to prematurely tell you who I am dating and who I am marrying, I don't have the answer. We're still dating."
Who makes the cut: If the Bears decide to keep six, count on Briggs, Bostic, Williams and McClellin to make the roster along with Jones and Khaseem Greene, who has shown improvement since last season. If the Bears go with seven linebackers, it's likely Jordan Senn makes the team because of his ability to contribute heavily on special teams.