By Adam Hoge-
The seventh in a series of depth chart breakdowns leading up to the start of Bears training camp in Bourbonnais.
(CBS) For the second straight season, the Bears will report to training camp without the services of Brian Urlacher.
But this time, he won’t be coming back “September 9th” as the former Bear constantly preached last summer.
Urlacher is now retired and four new linebackers enter the two-deep to compete for playing time alongside Lance Briggs. Let’s take a look at position group that will look drastically different this season:
|1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team||4th Team|
|WLB||Lance Briggs||Khaseem Greene||Jerry Franklin||Patrick Trahan|
|MLB||D.J. Williams||Jon Bostic||Blake Costanzo|
|SLB||James Anderson||J.T. Thomas||Lawrence Wilson|
WLB Lance Briggs – Takes over as the quarterback of the defense. It’s imperative he buys into the new coaching staff.
MLB D.J. Williams – Free agent linebacker is certainly no Brian Urlacher, but is he an upgrade over last year’s version of Urlacher? Probably.
SLB James Anderson – Brings experience and should be just as good Nick Roach.
LB Jon Bostic – The Bears love their second-round draft pick and expect the Florida product to compete for playing time.
LB Khaseem Greene – Former free safety was a turnover machine at Rutgers. Logical heir apparent to Lance Briggs.
LB J.T. Thomas – 2011 sixth-round pick appeared in all 16 games last year, primarily on special teams.
LB Jerry Franklin – The 2012 undrafted free agent appeared in three games with the Bears last year after bouncing around three other NFL teams.
LB Blake Costanzo – Played 14 games with the Bears last year as a special-teamer.
LB Lawrence Wilson – Former sixth-round pick in 2011 has already been on four NFL teams and has not played in a game.
LB Patrick Trahan – Has played in six games over the last two seasons with the Bears while also spending time on the practice squad.
Training Camp Outlook
One of the hottest debates in the offseason centered around how this current linebacking group compares to last year’s. There is a pretty good argument to be made that it is actually better than the last one that included future Hall Of Famer Brian Urlacher. The Bears will certainly miss Urlacher’s leadership, pre-snap reads and uncanny instincts, but it was obvious last year that he couldn’t always react to those reads and instincts as quickly as he once could. There’s little doubt D.J. Williams will bring more speed and athleticism to the middle than the Bears had a year ago, but will he be able to make the same reads that Urlacher did? The answer is probably no, but with Lance Briggs still on the weak side and taking over the play calling, Williams’ physical ability might be good enough. Meanwhile, Anderson takes over on the stong side and could be a slight upgrade over Nick Roach.
The big concern about this group is the possible lack of depth. The Bears hope that a pair of draft picks can help immediately on special teams and push for playing time, but fans have been down the road of failed rookie linebackers before and will remain skeptical. If Bostic and Greene don’t work out, that could be a big problem for the Bears defense. There isn’t much on the depth chart below J.T. Thomas, and even he is a project that has yet to contribute much beyond special teams.
Sleeper: Khaseem Greene. The fourth-round pick isn’t expected to contribute to the defense as quickly as Bostic, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact this season. Greene forced an all-time NCAA record 15 forced fumbles at Rutgers, which means he could be a playmaker on special teams Week 1. With Dave Toub off to Kansas City, a typically good special teams unit could fall off, but it’s guys like Greene who can prevent that from happening.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.