Figuring out linebacker position is most important story in Bears camp

shea mcclellin chicago bears

The Chicago Bears have seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs on their team – at least for another year – but beyond that the team enters camp with a lot of question marks regarding the health, experience and fit of the rest of the linebackers who will be competing for two starting jobs.

As far as fit goes, the Bears aren’t even sure where each player will ultimately end up competing, according to linebackers coach Reggie Herring:

“I would say this, with his experience right now, [Williams] would be a guy we would feel comfortable with as a starter at Mike. But we also would feel comfortable with Bostic as a starter at ‘Will,’ Mike or Sam. And we would feel comfortable with Shea being a starter at Sam or Mike and then we have Lance who plays the will position.”

You can call this versatility, and it is to an extent, but it’s also telling that the Bears aren’t sure exactly what the best fit is yet for their young linebackers.  That fact alone makes camp more interesting this year, as both fans and the team legitimately don’t know how the linebacker position will shake out.

Without a doubt, Shea McClellin will be the most interesting linebacker to watch as he makes the transition from defensive end.  McClellin played with his hands off the ground on the majority of his college snaps, so while this is nothing new to him, it remains to be seen if his athleticism is enough to excel at the position.

Something Bears fans should remember though, is McClellin should ultimately end up at the Sam, or strong side, linebacker position – the same position that was capably manned by Hunter Hillenmeyer for six seasons.  Nothing against Hillenmeyer, but if he set the bar for the position I would hope it isn’t too difficult for McClellin to reset the standard.

While McClellin’s position on this Bears team has at least been vaguely defined, the team seems to have no idea what to do with Jon Bostic.  As Bostic was struggling mightily at middle linebacker last year, the talk around town was that he would eventually fit best as the replacement for Lance Briggs on the weak side.  No matter where Bostic ends up, he needs to have a much firmer grasp on his responsibilities moving forward than he did last year.

By taking time at all three positions, Bostic should be able to more fully understand responsibilities and fits throughout the defense.  While the Bears may say that Bostic could fit at any of the three positions, ultimately it appears that he will be the primary competition for D.J. Williams at the Mike.

According to D.J. Williams though, there is no competition:

“Personally, I feel like I’m one of the three best linebackers on this team and if I’m healthy, stay focused, do everything I’m supposed to do, I should be in there.”

That is exactly what a team wants to hear from its players, and the Bears are likely hoping that Williams proves himself as the best option during training camp, allowing Bostic to watch the game from the sidelines and learn for a season.

As camp closes, the Bears will likely line up Shea McClellin on the strong side and D.J. Williams in the middle with Briggs manning the weak side for his twelfth season in Chicago.  At the end of the day, health will be the key as it always is.  By working Jon Bostic in at all three linebacker positions, he would ultimately serve as insurance if any one of the Bears three starters go down.  Because beyond Bostic, the Bears have no reliable depth at the position.

2013 fourth round pick Khaseem Greene was forced into action last season and quickly proved that he was not even close to being ready to play in the NFL.  That is not to say he doesn’t have the potential to eventually be a productive player, but giving Greene a year to learn on sidelines is in the best interest of winning games this season.

Beyond Greene, the Bears have an intriguing rookie coming to camp in Christian Jones, an undrafted free agent out of Florida State.  Jones is the ultimate wild card, having the physicality and athleticism to contribute immediately on special teams, while also possessing the upside to make an impact at linebacker if forced into action.  At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds Jones is highly athletic and quickly moves laterally from sideline to sideline.

While Jones was projected to be drafted in Rounds 2-3, he fell due to a failed drug test leading up to the draft.  As a team that had little to no depth at linebacker, the Bears were more than worth rolling the dice on a prospect with his kind of upside.  With that said, Jones is raw and was slow to diagnose plays at times in college, leading to a lack of instincts on the field.  He is said to be passionate about the game though, and with the proper coaching he has the potential to be a starter down the line.

For the Bears sake, let’s just hope he doesn’t have to take the field in 2014.



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