As our own Ross Read pointed out, the Bears have decided to stick with their 4-3 system. Brian Orakpo, widely regarded as the best free agent linebacker, was given the franchise tag by the Redskins on Monday. The Bears meanwhile, have veteran Lance Briggs coming back in 2014, along with three young players, including Shea McClellin who was moved from defensive end to linebacker. They also have veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson that they could re-sign. Combine these things with the fact the Bears have tons of holes to fill and limited cap space to do it, and I’d guess that they won’t make any moves at linebacker.
Veteran Lance Briggs is returning at weak side linebacker. After a shortened 2013 season due to injury, look for Briggs to once again contribute in a big way. Some may worry about his age at 33, but he’s been consistent even after turning 30. Last season he was on pace to have one of his best seasons in tackles before he got hurt. He’s averaged over 100 tackles per season for his entire career. Throw in his seven Pro Bowl appearances, and he’s a great guy to provide leadership to a young group of linebackers next season.
The middle linebacker position is completely up for grabs. The Bears drafted Jonathan Bostic two years ago to be their linebacker of the future. Bostic had 57 tackles and two sacks in nine starts last year. The Bears love his speed and athleticism, which is why Emery drafted him. He could be the future at weak side, but with Briggs still playing, he can fill the middle for now and use his speed to get to both sides of the field to track down ball carriers.
Fellow second year man Khaseem Greene should also compete with Bostic for a spot in the middle. Last year he had 28 tackles and no sacks in four starts.
The Bears have yet another option in the middle with veteran D.J. Williams. He is a free agent, but Chicago could sign him for a very reasonable price. He’s still very competent at 31. He missed the majority of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, but should be fully recovered by the start of OTA’s. Williams has played double digit games in eight seasons, and in four of them he’s recorded over 100 tackles. He’s versatile in the position, a quality Emery loves. He’s played outside and middle linebacker for whole seasons at a time. Williams would also help provide leadership with Briggs to the younger guys.
Converted defensive end Shea McClellin should compete for the strong side position. He will be the biggest linebacker the Bears have at 6-3, 260 pounds. His long arms and speed should give him versatility at the position. He’s another guy that Emery took due to his athleticism. Look for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to use McClellin in a variety of ways in the middle or on the strong side. He could be used in situations on the defensive line and in a variety of blitz packages.
Veteran James Anderson had a solid year in 2013, starting every game on the strong side, recording 102 tackles and four sacks. He made roughly the same salary as D.J. Williams, and he’s a year younger. However with McClellin’s move to linebacker, presumably to play the strong side, it looks more than likely Chicago would keep Williams over Anderson, since he is more of a middle linebacker.