Lovie Smith has a lot of faith in the play caller for his defense this season and the unit just added another part as linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa agreed to terms with the Bears on a one-year deal.
It's the biggest news on a busy Friday at Halas Hall when the team announced defensive lineman Israel Idonije has signed a two-year extension and seven of the team's nine draft picks have come to terms on four-year contracts.
While most of the focus this offseason has been on Jay Cutler and the revamped offense, the Bears will need to make significant strides on defense to compete in the NFC and Tinoisamoa could provide a boost in that regard. He's expected to be the frontrunner for the starting job on the strong side where Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer were expected to compete for the spot.
Tinoisamoa visited Halas Hall on May 20 and seemed at ease chatting with players and coaches alike on the field during an OTA practice. He passed a physical that day. He visited New England on Tuesday but the Patriots quickly moved to sign another linebakcer, Paris Lenon. There had been talk of a visit to Philadelphia but that never materialized and contract talks ramped up today.
He led St. Louis in tackles in four of the last six season, including during his rookie year in 2003 when he played for Smith and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich. He's expected to be a two-down linebacker for the Bears, which last season meant being on the field about 63 percent of the time. Tinoisamoa chose the Bears over the Buffalo Bills, who he visited first after his release from St. Louis on May 8. Tinoisamoa had a relationship there as he knew Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell from his time in St. Louis.
If Tinoisamoa can improve the Bears against the run so the defense doesn't have to stack the line of scrimmage with as many eight-man fronts, his addition will be a success. The Bears were solid vs. the run last season but often times compromised the pass defense to stop it. When they didn't stack the box, they were overrun at times, like the 37-3 loss at Green Bay when the Packers rushed for 200 yards.
It's unknown how his addition will impact the rest of the roster. The Bears are expected to keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster or seven if they find a compelling reason to help special teams. Roach would figure to become a central figure for Dave Toub's special teams unit. FIfth-round pick Marcus Freeman is expected to make the team. That's five linebackers with the inclusion of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and that puts Hillenmeyer in a battle to make the team. He is due to earn $1.5 million this season and is still recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. He will need to be healthy in time for training camp to prove his value as a reserve at multiple positions. Jamar Williams and Joey LaRocque were both core members of special teams last season.
Tinoisamoa, who the Rams tried unsuccessfully to trade, is just the latest addition in what has been a busy offseason for general manager Jerry Angelo, who has proven the Bears are more versatile when it comes to constructing the roster, dispelling the notion it is a draft-driven franchise.
``We built this team many different ways,'' Angelo said. ``We've done it through the draft, we've done it through the free agency system, we've done it through trades. When you look at our roster over my tenure here, we probably have done it every which way you can do it. We really have. There are some teams that really abide by the draft. There are some teams that really look at free agency. I think we have had a good mesh of both in how we've done this and in a sound way.''
Tinoisamoa projects to be the fourth starter added since the start of free agency through means other than the draft. The team traded for quarterback Jay Cutler, signed guard Frank Omiyale on the open market and picked up another ex-Ram after St. Louis released Tinoisamoa's teammate Orlando Pace.
What remains to be seen is if the Bears will make a move to add help at wide receiver. The Bears tried to trade for Anquan Boldin and while it appears he's no longer on the market, Plaxico Burress is seeking work. He has drawn interest from three clubs, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus, and the Jets and Buccaneers are believed to be two of them. Burress' legal issues in New York will have to be resolved first, and progress could be made in the next few weeks. The Bears have also been exploring adding an experienced cornerback to their depth chart, bringing in Ken Lucas and Rod Hood for visits. They're out of the picture now but other veteran possibilities are available.