Chicago Sun-Times

Bears draft preview: Need No. 8 Inside linebacker

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Need No. 9--Inside linebacker

Players on roster

MLB Brian Urlacher (signed through 2012)
SLB/MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer (2011)

Need

The word is Urlacher has spent much of his offseason around Halas Hall working to ensure he will be in top shape when business gets going. That has never been an issue for him though. Urlacher always is in terrific shape. That's just the kind of worker he is in the gym. It will be interesting to see what level he can play at with Bob Babich returning to coach linebackers and Lovie Smith overseeing the defense.

Will Urlacher's role change somewhat? Will he be in position to make more plays than he has the past two seasons? Hillenmeyer is a capable backup who knows the scheme and might be best suited on the inside. But if the Bears are looking to the future, they'll need to address this position at some point and Lance Briggs figures to have more time left as an elite player than Urlacher.

Who the Bears have been looking at

The Bears like to say that their positions are interchangeable at linebacker even if the job descriptions are somewhat different. So we'll run down the names we listed at outside linebacker--Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy, TCU's Stephen Hodge, Notre Dame's Maurice Crum Jr., Murray State's Nathan Williams and San Diego State's Russell Allen.

Coming Sunday: Strong safety.

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12 Comments

The Bears need to be realistic Urlacher is on the downside of his career and a heir apparent needs to be found. There will be some late round ILB's like Alcorn's Lee Robinson (6'2" 246), So. Car. Jasper Brinkley (6'1" 252) and Pitt. Joseph Frantz (6'1" 243) all have at least 4.7 40 time and have played the positon for at least 2 yrs. Well also need to beef up the NT spot Chris Baker (6'2" 326) a underclassman coming out, Sammie Lee Hill Stillman (6'3" 330) are NT's who get push and stand there gound on the run both could be had in the 6th or 7th. Both with the NFL being a copycat league they might not last that long.

Jerry, do everything you can to get Brian Robiskie!!!! He can start tomorrow, he's that ready!!!!

Chicago certainly has been looking at a lot of linebacker prospects, mostly strongside prospects. I think Urlacher will be fine. The Bears already have Hillenmeyer for depth at middle linebacker. When it comes time to replace Urlacher in a couple seasons, I would think the Bears would use a day one pick [1st or 2nd rounder] on his replacement. Especially with the importance of the position. And again, most of the prospects the Bears have been looking at played strongside linebacker in college.

Of all the prospects the Bears have looked at, I like Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy the most. The 6-2 236lb strongside linebacker was an all Big-Ten honorable mention. He had 7.5 tackles for loss to go along with 3 sacks as a senior, so the guy can make plays behind the line. Levy is very physical at the line, and has better straight-line speed and quickness than most college strongside linebackers. Handles coverage responsibilities against tight ends and running backs in the flat. Levy is a projected 5th to 6th rounder, he'd be a nice pickup with his athleticism.

I still wouldn't be surprised if the Bears use their 4th rounder at #119 on California's Zack Follett, who is my favorite linebacking prospect. I realize the Bears haven't brought him in for a workout, but that doesn't mean anything. Follett is a punishing hitter who can forcefully take on blocks with an impressive pop that can gain him the separation he needs to make the big plays behind the line of scrimmage. He was an all-Pac 10 first teamer who had 23 tackles for loss [thats impressive!!] to go along with 10.5 sacks, and four passes broken up. Also had 5 forced fumbles, and we all know Lovie Smith loves that attribute in his defensive players. Bottom line, Follett is a smash mouth hitter that makes a lot of plays from his linebacker position, and I'd like to see the Bears add some very physical/big hitters like Follett to their defense especially to the front seven. The Bears showed interest in him early, and I hope they still like him. Hopefully Follett is the linebacker Angelo covets, and he's just looking at all these late rounders as a backup plan in case Follett is gone when the Bears pick in the 3rd or 4th, we'll see. Its a deep linebacker class, I wouldn't be surprised if he's there for the taking in the fourth round for Chicago, it should be interesting either way GO BEARS!!

I think we will struggle to find someone with the athletic ability that Urlacher has brought to the position for the last several years. We obviously will struggle to find someone 6'4", 255 lbs that can run like that. What we need in a future MLB is someone in the 6'2-6'4 range, and around 240-245 lbs coming out of college. Maualuga has that kind of size, but he is not a fluid guy in coverage. We need him to be a coverage capable player, one who can turn and run down the seam, and still be able to locate and make a play on the ball. Hillenmeyer can't do that today, so our "backup plan" is really taking a large step backwards. Urlacher's experience as a safety was crucial in developing his coverage skills. We aren't going to find another safety with that size, but we should look for similar skill sets in the future prospects. The only thing we need that is different from what Urlacher can do is we need someone who can take on and shed IN THE HOLE and make a play. If you look at the better MLBs in the NFL, they can all run, and they can all hit. But the truly elite can take on a center or guard in the hole, shed them like a bad habit, and deliver a blow. Ray Lewis cannot do this any more, and Urlacher never really could.

That is what we should look for. We need someone who can run to the play, but can also hold his ground and make the play when it comes to him.The MLBs in the draft don't stand out that way to me. Rey Maualuga can't play in space like we would need in this system. He is a thumper in the run game, but would not be the right mix in the coverage scheme we deploy. So if something were to happen to Urlacher, I would suggest Briggs is our best option to play the middle. He is a little short, but he can run, and he can make plays in close. He doesn't shed particularly well either, but he is the best organic option we have. Jamar Williams would step in at WLB, and we can move the two of them around as needed. Both have played both spots, or at least gotten some reps there.

Why are Bears fans such a bunch of haters? As far as I am concerned Urlacher is a great player. I have more faith that he will be the defensive MVP this season than whatever wide receiver we get will catch 50 passes. Fans are posting that he has slowed down the last couple of years, but people forget that 2 years ago Urlacher got 5 interceptions and 5 sacks. His supposed fall was mostly a national media myth perpetrated by the haters outside of Chicago. We all know they exist. I am not blind to Urlacher’s injury history, but great players typically overcome them, I expect Urlacher will do the same. Of much more effect, is the level of coaching and play calling that the defense has had. This defense, and in general Urlacher’s play has declined since Ron Rivera left. Is Lovey taking over enough to improve that, all I can say is, I hope so. I am looking forward to the defense being #1 again and contending for the title of best ever defense. As for Urlachers replacement either short or long term, I am sorry but there are no other "Urlacher's" available. Most Tampa 2 teams have to make do with a normal middle linebacker, not a freak. The bears will have to do the same. It is not the important position in a cover 2, that is the Weakside backer, but Urlacher playing in the middle, is the reason the Bears were better at this defense than any other team has been. Draft a linebacker if you need to upgrade your special teams, but remember the numbers game at the end of training camp. We need starters, I would rather see them draft 2 or even 3 safeties to increase the competition, and the chances of finding a legitimate FS than waist a pick on a middle linebacker.

Noel you have you opinion I have mine yours is based on emotion mine is based on a fact that even you admit to in the latter part of your post. Let's say Urlacher is on the end cycle of his career and unless the Bears get a quality NT his career will be shorter than you think. This team kept Urlacher and Briggs close to the line trying to shoot gaps thats not his game and the defense suffered for it. With no push in the middle the opposing Qb gets to step up in the pocket at a shorter depth then the rushing ends result no sack complete pass. With a quality NT the pocket is collapsed the QB has nowhere to go. The lack of penetration even shows in the run game when the ends pinch in to compensate there is no contain result big gain. This defense will function they have a run-stuffer in the NT spot and it will also free up Harris who has been double teamed consistantly. That is the KEY.

Noel:

It is not about haters with Urlacher, it is about realizing that Urlacher is only human, has been a very good middle linebacker and still could be for another 2-3 years. Also please realize that Urlacher does have his areas that need improvement, like taking on and shedding offensive line blocks which he does not do that well against the run as mentioned previously.

The point about Urlacher, is right now he is worth something in trade value. If the Bears have a great year and a resurgence Urlacher's trade value may be still very good for next year as well.

Teams that are able to trade their superstars and get some value helps the team maintain and improve in the future like the 49ers did in the 80's during their dynasty with players like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott.

The Bears future would be better served by realizing this as a possible need if they can get value for Urlacher. Maybe an Urlacher and Vasher trade might earn a #1 pick, so the Bears could pick up a top middle linebacker in round 1. Maybe a trade of Vasher and Urlacher to the Arizona Cardinals (who are willing to trade) could get a Boldin or the 31st pick in this years draft?

These opportunities must be considered, particularly due to the quality of talent in the linebacker draft this year.

Kevin, as for Follett, I have watched him up close all year and he is exceptional and mean, good qualities to have for a very good linebacker.

Joe thats not really accurate about Lewis or Urlacher. Lewis is still very effective and if you want a MLB to to be able to take on guards you need the right scheme up front. When Lewis excelled at it was when he played in a 3-4 single gap system and had 700 plus pounds of beef as his DT's. No MIC is ever going to excell against Guards in a Tampa 2 or two gap scheme. The Guards Come free in that situation and have all there momentum going forward, while the MIC is in drop back coverage and has to run a distance to get to his gap, this gives a Guard to much time to spy and stop him. You will notice when Brian comes without warning he tends to blow past his blocker and get a sack. The Bears are also just really, really bad at disguising when there blitzing. Urlacher is not in a great system for himself and he has done a great job as a misfit in this system. Look for a big comeback from Brian this year, he is not comming off Surgery and is in better shape because of it. We can get a MIC when he retires or is traded. Until then the only guy that is going to be better than him in this draft is Curry. It's just not a need that needs to be addressed right now.

Do you guys think we really need a mlb this yr we dont have many picks?I think we should focus on a saftey get a wr in free agentcy.We also need a Gaurd and a good fullback or wr in draft.Maybe a backup Quarteback..DUH? We dont even have a vet backup jees..

the bears created the middle linebacker position, and have been resourceful in finding the next one. this is not the time to panick.
the bears need better d tackle play, that's why brian is exposed to
o lineman in the middle. i don't think they can trade him because of
age and contract this year, but next year they may not be a salary
cap so he maybe tradeable then. of course i know don't put anything pass jerry now. people keep talking about d end play, but the d tackle play of the bears doesn't help if the qb can step up in the pocket because there's no push from the d tackle spot. the bears need wide reciever and saftey. the cover 2 must have great saftey play to be effective. because this draft has a lot of good wideouts
and linebackers we need to take advantage of what the draft bears for us. maybe we take a guard or center in the later rounds cause we have three new tackles on the o line. we can't see a player improve in the off season and the bears may surprise with a pick or two. finally the future is bright for the bears.

Urlacher will be fine.

With Lovie taking the reigns on the defensive play calling Urlacher and Briggs should be used in a manor that is more conventional like they were used in 2005 and 2006. Creighton make a good point about our poor blitz disguising. Perhaps Marranelli can get the D-line stunts going and give some different looks upfront so when we blitz it is not so predictable.

Urlacher havinf a full season under his belt after his surgery will also pay dividends for him. Eventually it would be wise to move Urlacher out of the middle. His speed, coverage skill and athletitic ability would be better suited coming off the edge when blitzing and he would see fewer lead blockers on the weak side.

Go Bears !!

My guess is Rod will try to run more TEX games with the Dline.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on April 18, 2009 7:25 AM.

Quin, Nolan emerge as options at safety in middle rounds was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears draft preview: Need No. 7 Strong safety is the next entry in this blog.

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