Continuing on in our Chicago Bears depth chart projection series, we take a look at the LB position, which has been revamped this off-season:
Starting weak-side LB: Lance Briggs
Heading into his 11th season with the Bears, Lance Briggs will being playing without his good friend Brian Urlacher manning the middle of the defense. The leadership role will be nothing new to Briggs, as he’s always been a leader on that defense, even when Urlacher was around.
It will be interesting to see Briggs take over the defensive calls, however, as the Mike LB usually makes those, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is giving that responsibility to the guy with the most experience in the system. Briggs, according to Phil Emery, also specifically asked for that responsibility, and we should expect another solid season from the long-time veteran.
Starting middle LB: Jon Bostic
Most fans were expecting Phil Emery to go with Kansas State LB Arthur Brown with their second-round pick, but instead he went with Florida LB Jon Bostic. Bostic is an aggressive, downhill MLB (not hesitant to take on blockers at the point of attack). He also has the speed and quickness to get sideline-to-sideline and drop deep in the middle of the field in coverage.
Bostic has also been touted as great leader; making defensive calls while at Florida and getting his teammates lined up and in position. There are still things Bostic needs to work on (man-coverage and taking better angles to the ball carrier are two examples), but I think he has a great chance to open the season as the starter at MLB.
Right now the team has veteran D.J. Williams listed as the first-team starter at MLB, but this off-season he has been taken out in nickel formations. If Williams can’t crack into SLB James Anderson’s snaps in the nickel, Tucker may opt to go with the first-year player over the long-time veteran.
Starting strong-side LB: James Anderson
The Panthers cut James Anderson for cap purposes, and the Bears bounced on the opportunity to sign him to a one-year deal to fill the void at SLB. Anderson is sort of a similar player to Nick Roach, except he might be a little bit more athletic than the former Bear. Roach is the better run defender, but Anderson is the better player in coverage — he can line-up and run with opposing TEs and RBs.
I expect Anderson to open the season as the starter at SLB, and if he has a decent year, expect Emery to bring him back on a long-term deal.
The Bears signed Williams two days later after they decided to not bring back Urlacher. From a physical standpoint, he appears to be an upgrade from Urlacher, but he has himself embroiled in a training camp battle with the rookie, Bostic, for the starting job at MLB.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, Williams is currently working with the first-team defense at MLB but has been routinely taken out once the team goes to their nickel formation. It will be interesting to see if Tucker thinks the team is better served with Bostic in the starting MLB spot since that player will come out in obvious passing situations.
The Bears selected Khaseem Greene in the fourth-round of the NFL Draft, with many draft experts believing that they got a steal. Greene was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year the past two years, and was named to the All-American Team. Greene is a quick, fluid athlete, who has a great nose for the ball (forced 15 fumbles in 2012) and good instincts attacking running lanes to get to the RB.
Greene was used in various ways back at Rutgers; as a pass rusher off the edge, blitzing him through the A- and B-gaps, dropping him back in coverage and in coverage versus slot WRs and TEs.
Greene projects as a WLB at the next level, and with Briggs having two years remaining on his deal, Greene is likely to sit and learn behind Briggs in those years before stepping into that position. For 2013, Greene will be counted on to make an impact on special teams.
Constanzo was brought in last season for his special team’s prowess, and he will once again be counted on this year to lead that group. He is likely going to be behind Bostic and Greene on the depth chart, but the three players should give the Bears an athletic return and punt coverage unit that new special teams coach Joe DeCamillis should have confidence in.
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