By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) Stability at inside linebacker has escaped the Bears since Brian Urlacher retired back in 2012. Seven different players have lined up in the middle, none of whom had any staying power.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Continues Into Monday Afternoon; Wind Advisory, Lakeshore Flood Advisory In Effect
The team has also undergone a scheme change that requires two inside linebackers on the field on base downs. Last season, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio auditioned four different players at the position. Injury played a part in the rotation, but so did skills — or lack thereof.
Fangio tinkered with alternating players for base and nickel (or dime) packages, as some were better suited against the run, while others were better equipped to drop into coverage.
Ideally, a team has a three-down linebacker, particularly one in the middle who can coordinate the team on the field, a general to set a front and set the tone.
The Bears hope they’ve found that player after signing Danny Trevathan to a four-year deal at the outset of free agency Wednesday.
Trevathan has a history with Bears coach John Fox. He was the Broncos’ sixth-round draft pick in 2012, when Fox was still calling the shots in Denver. He played sparingly as a rookie but earned playing time in nickel sets. In 2013, everything changed.
Trevathan became a full-time starter at weak-side linebacker in the Broncos’ 4-3 scheme. He stayed on the field for both nickel and dime sets, which speaks volumes about his coverage ability. In the end, he led the team in tackles (125) and had three interceptions and 10 passes defended.
In 2014, Trevathan struggled with knee injuries. He first suffered a left medial tibial impaction fracture that kept him out for the first three games of the season. In just his second game back, he fractured another bone in his left knee, landing him on injured reserve with a designation to return. In a final crushing blow, he dislocated his kneecap, which landed him on injured reserve and required surgery.
This past season, Trevathan bounced back in the Broncos’ run to the championship. He made 15 starts, leading the team with 109 tackles and making two interceptions.
Looking over Trevathan’s game tape, he checks all the boxes teams look for in an inside linebacker.
Trevathan possesses excellent instincts and an ability to quickly read and diagnose a play, then react in an instant. His football IQ is obvious, as he doesn’t take many false steps, which allows him to play fast. Athletes are typically most successful when they’re thinking less and reacting more.
Athletically, Trevathan has excellent lateral quickness to pursue the football sideline to sideline. He’s a sure and explosive tackler at the point of attack. He has loose hips, which allow him to quickly change direction, which benefits him in coverage against backs and tight ends.
Let’s step inside the film room to highlight a few plays which demonstrate what Trevathan brings to the Bears’ rebuilding defense.
I found myself repeatedly writing the word “explosive” in my notes as I watched Trevathan on film. Not only is he explosive in and out of his cuts, he arrives at the collision point with rude intentions.READ MORE: Chicago-Based Movers Ghost Family After Showing Up At New Home Without A Lot Of Their Belongings
Rarely did I see a ball-carrier not drop on immediate contact with Trevathan, who’s a sure and physical tackler. He’s also adept at taking on lead blockers to win his gap and force the play back inside.
Here’s an animated .gif from the Broncos-Ravens game that shows the type of collisions Trevathan is a part of on game day.
(All images courtesy of NFL GameRewind)
Not only was Trevathan able to defeat the blocker, he brought Javorious Allen down for a one-yard gain. That’s a perfect example of what scouts call being able to “stack and shed” a blocker, which is a crucial trait for success as an inside linebacker.
As noted earlier, Trevathan’s coverage skills allow him to remain on the field in passing situations as well. He’s a true three-down linebacker.
This example comes from the Bears-Broncos game at Soldier Field. Trevathan’s loose hips, speed, vision and hands are all on display in this interception of a Jay Cutler pass intended for receiver Marquess Wilson.
Offenses scheme this very matchup every week, lining up a receiver in the slot as the No. 3 to get him matched up against a linebacker. In theory, this is an advantage due to the speed difference between the players. Cutler’s pass was questionable and underthrown, but the video clearly illustrates that Trevathan wasn’t the mismatch the Bears were anticipating.
I asked Cutler if he saw Trevathan on this throw in the the postgame press conference, to which he replied, “I saw him. It’s hard for those guys to flip their hips sometimes. He (Trevathan) did a good job.”
That quote and Cutler’s eyes on the throw prove the Bears were targeting Trevathan and thought they could beat him. They didn’t succeed.
There are negatives to Trevathan’s game. He has difficulty disengaging from linemen at the second level and can get washed out of plays. He has a tendency to overrun plays as well, but his recovery speed allows him to make up for those split-second missteps.
Given the need of the position and the relative value of the contract — four years and $24.5 million — Bears fans should be pleased with this signing. Trevathan turns 26 in two weeks, so he’s still entering the prime of his career.
Looking back on the success Fangio had in San Francisco, two of the biggest reasons were the play of inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Where Trevathan lines up will be cleared up in the offseason, as he has the skills to transcend either the Mike or Jack alignment and assignments.
Whether Trevathan ascends to their level of success remains to be seen. But he certainly fits the mold of an instinctive, two-way linebacker who should bring stability to a position that desperately needs it.MORE NEWS: Couple Frustrated When Wedding Limo Arrives An Hour Late; Limo Company Says Staffing Shortage Is Causing Problems
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.