The Chicago Bears linebackers unit got hit hard by injuries last year but still performed well. This year, the players are healthy and new additions are ready to be even better.
The Chicago Bears have a rich history of great linebackers. It seems that no matter what happens around them, the franchise finds a way to find good linebackers.
That tradition continues. The Bears had one of the best units in the NFL. Last season, despite getting hit with a number of injuries, the unit weathered it all and performed well. Part of that was because of the depth the team had. Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis stepped up and played well in the starters’ absence.
Both Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis are gone now, so how can the linebackers continue their dominance?
The starting unit
The Bears strengthened the starting unit. They faced paying a big contract to outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Floyd struggled to get sacks and take some pressure off of Khalil Mack. If they were to pay a big contract, they wanted to do it for a more established pass rusher.
Enter Robert Quinn. The Bears quickly signed the All-Pro free agent, allowing Floyd to leave and sign with the Los Angeles Rams.
Mack is looking to have, for him, a bounce-back season. He made another Pro Bowl in 2019, but he wasn’t a normally dominant force. With defensive lineman Akiem Hicks injured and Floyd ineffective, Mack faced a wall of players trying to slow him down. He consistently saw double and triple teams throughout the season. He still finished second in quarterback hurries, however.
With Quinn on board, Mack won’t be seeing all that attention. The Bears now have a very good player on the other side who can wreak havoc himself if opponents put all their attention on Mack. That frees up Mack to face more one-on-one matchups, and that spells doom for many offensive linemen. Mack wants to show he’s still among the top two defensive players and he could have a monster season.
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The middle linebackers look to dominate again after suffering injuries last season. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan missed a combined 11 games in 2019. They were very good when on the field, especially against the run. Both were on their way to equaling or besting their career tackle totals.
With the middle linebackers now healthy they’ll be able to take up space and allow the pass rushers do their thing.
Is depth a question?
Last season the Bears were fortunate to have quality depth behind the starters. Things pretty much went along despite the loss.
Vaighters has played in just three career games, recording three tackles. Mingo was the Cleveland Browns’ first-round pick (6th overall) in 2013. After three nondescript seasons in Clevaland, the Browns let him go. Since then, he’s bounced around. The Chicago Bears are the fifth team he’s played for in five season. He spent time with the New England Patriots (2016), Indianapolis Colts (2017), Seattle Seahawks (2018), and the Houston Texans (2019).
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In the middle, the Bears have Joesl Iyeigbuniwe and Josh Woods in backup roles. Iyiegbuniwe is in his third season since the Bears drafted him in the fourth round (115th overall) in 2018. He played in 31 games in two seasons but mainly on special teams. He only played on 23 defensive snaps in his career.
Woods was an undrafted rookie free agent last season. He played in nine games, but all the snaps he was in on were on special teams.
If the Bears starting linebackers suffer injuries again will this backup unit step in and perform as well as last season’s backups did? There is a lot of inexperience with the backups so that is a serious question. The one who has the most experience, Mingo, has struggled to make an impression on any coaching staff, and playing on six teams in eight years raises a red flag. He’s playing for his career, though, so let’s see if that gives him added motivation.
The Chicago Bears’ starting linebackers unit is stronger than last season. They’ll put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and force them to make mistakes. Those mistakes will help cause turnovers. With the improvement, this defense could surpass the 50 sacks and 47 total turnovers the 2018 unit recorded.
Let’s just hope the starters stay healthy all year and the backups just give the starters a chance to stay healthy throughout the season.