Need No. 9--Outside linebacker
Players on roster
WLB Lance Briggs (signed through 2013)
SLB Nick Roach (2009*)
SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer (2011)
OLB Jamar Williams (2009)
OLB Joey LaRocque (2011)
* Roach will be a restricted free agent after 2009 so the Bears will still have rights to sign him.
The Bears have arguably the best weak-side linebacker in the game in Briggs and he remains in his prime after being selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. He's the most consistent defender in the front seven and should remain in that role for at least a few seasons. It will be interesting to see what happens on the strong side where Roach and Hillenmeyer figure to compete. There were concerns about Roach's durability and those were only reinforced last season when he missed two games. Hillenmeyer is coming off a season in which he was dinged as well.
Between the two of them they should hold the position down. At some point, a decision will have to be made on Roach, who will be a restricted free agent next offseason. The Bears will need to decide whether to pursue him for an extension or decide what level they would want to tender him at. So it's an important season for his future. Williams and LaRocque were steady special teams performers last season, nothing special, and they will have to work to retain their spots on the roster. Williams was the heir apparent to Briggs and how if he's going to start he'll likely have to do it in another uniform. We listed outside linebacker in the top 10 as far as needs because this is one of the positions that special teams coordinator Dave Toub uses to stock his depth chart. Lovie Smith looks for undersized players who can run in his defensive scheme and those traits serve Toub well also.
Who the Bears have been looking at
The Bears went to Wisconsin to take a look at Badgers linebacker DeAndre Levy, who would fit in well and projects as a mid-round selection. They also like TCU's Stephen Hodge, who is a distant relative of Smith. Hodge played safety in school but many teams, including the Bears, project him as a will linebacker. Cincinnati's Corey Smith is an undersized guy who might be on the radar. The team has had private workouts or brought the following players in: Notre Dame's Maurice Crum Jr., Murray State's Nathan Williams and San Diego State's Russell Allen. They project as late-round picks or priority free agents.
Coming Saturday: Inside linebacker.