In spite of the absence of first round pick Roquan Smith and the injury to Danny Trevathan thus far in camp the Bears appear to have a solid Corp at inside linebacker. Of course, that is all contingent on the fact Trevathan is expected to play most of his games as a starter this season and Smith will eventually be signed and likely will be the starter along side Trevathan. Trevathan did his part practicing for the first time in camp Monday. Now that all the draft picks are signed around the league it’s expected Smith will be the final domino to fall. Of course that’s pure speculation and until it happens it hasn’t. We’ll see how the rest of this week turns out with the contract impasse between Smith and the Bears in negotiations.
Of course the biggest reason for the Smith holdout is in regards to the possible suspensions and game checks being voided due to the suspension with the new ambiguous rules in place penalizing helmet to helmet contact. I understand both sides here. I tend to favor labor because they do all the work and get little of the financial glory, but in this case, I can see the Bears perspective as well as Smiths. Number one, the Bears have all the leverage. Would they be better with Smith in the fold as opposed to without? Of course. Would they be completely screwed at Inside Linebacker without him. Absolutely not. I’ll get into it in more detail later in the piece.
Locks to make the team: Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyeigbuniwe
These are an easy four names to guess. I seriously doubt Smith will be a season long holdout, but until he’s here he’s not so you have to be open for anything. However, going under the likely premise he signs and probably sooner than later Smith is a superstar in the making. He brings instincts, IQ, and football character with him and will be a instant hit among Bears fans carrying on the historic tradition of Inside linebacker play. Smith has no weakness other than size so he needs to be clean to make plays. He can do a great deal of that on his own by getting to where he needs to get before the blockers do by using his combination of instincts, processing speed, and elite athleticism. He’s a true 3 down linebacker and should make a great duo with his counterpart who I look at next.
Like Smith, Trevathan can factor in the run game, the passing game in coverage and in the pressure scheme. With these two side by side in the middle of the field Vic Fangio will be able to run his scheme to it’s full potential. With the concern about the Bears ability to get pressure from their Outside Linebackers I fully expect Fangio to use his Inside Backers to get plenty of pressure with A gap delay blitzes while confusing the blocking scheme of the Offensive Line with his Texas stunt scheme. Both Trevathan and Smith are excellent blitzers and because of this fact I anticipate Fangio will increase the number of his blitzes to an unusual high percentage for the typically conservative Defensive Coordinator.
Also factoring into the pressure scheme is the Bears primary backup and current starter Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski is having himself a excellent camp. He too can get after it as a blitzer and will even do so playing Outside Linebacker on occasion. He’s also a wrecking ball in the run game and in special teams as well. His weakness is in pass coverage but even there he’s not completely useless. His limited lateral quickness hurts him covering backs, Receivers, and the move Tight Ends in the league man to man, but he is smart and will put himself in position to make himself a factor in coverage particularly in zone coverages.
Fourth round pick Iyeigbuniwe looks to be another valuable piece to the puzzle. He’s built like a brick shithouse with elite athleticism and is a cerebral player with a high football character. Under this coaching staff he should thrive in his development and will likely factor into special teams as a core player right from the very first game. By all indications he has starter quality skills and will provide excellent depth for the Bears who have struggled in the department of late. Ryan Pace did say of all the guys he drafted Iyeigbuniwe caught his attention the most. Pretty high praise considering the elite talent he drafted 3 picks before him. Inside linebacker appears to be a team strength and if they stay healthy should have the Bears in very good shape for years to come.
Bubble players competing for the final roster spot(s) on the 53 man roster: John Timu, Jonathan Anderson
Timu may very well be the Bears most instinctive player at the Inside Linebacker position which is saying a lot considering this loaded unit. However he is limited athletically which is the only thing stopping him from being a 3 down Pro-Bowl quality starter. In the run game he is a thumper! It’s laterally in coverage and in his back pedal where he struggles flipping his hips as he is a bit stiff athletically. However, as your fifth Linebacker he brings immense value along with being an animal running downfield in punt and kick coverage as well as a blocker on returns.
Another fixture as a backup with this team is Anderson. Another very reliable backup who brings a little athleticism with him but lacks the size to be a 3 down starter in this league. However, as a depth player brings a lot of value with him which for him is a good thing as he may need that value in case he is cut from the roster which is a real possibility. I see Timu as being ahead of him and with the other four ahead of him and a bunch of depth at other spots on the roster carrying a sixth Inside Linebacker is going to be difficult to justify. He has no eligibility left for the practice squad so it’s likely he’s cut and quickly gets picked up by some depth needy team shortly thereafter.
Dark horse candidates and practice squad possibilities: Elijah Norris, Josh Woods
I expect zero of these two players to make the final 53 man roster, but one of the three have a real good shot at making it on the Bears practice squad. If they show out on tape perhaps both even make one on someone’s team. I do expect to see one of these two replacing the previously mentioned Anderson as a developmental Linebacker. They are young, cheap and have full eligibility for the practice squad.
My top choice of these two is Norris. The reason being is that he does offer versatility. He played Defensive End in a 40 front at Shepherd and made 2nd team all MEC making plenty of plays. He had 11 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble his senior season this past fall. So in a pinch he can give you snaps off the Edge. His size puts him at Inside Iinebacker at 6’3″ 240, but you never know. He may be able to add weight and strength and maintain his quickness and eventually move to the Edge.
Josh Woods is a former safety coming out of Maryland who is now trying to make the Bears as a Linebacker, but at 6’1″ 211 he’s a bit undersized even for todays new aged undersize interior Linebackers. My guess he’s here to show what he can do on special teams. Woods is fast and athletic jumping a 10′ 1″ broad jump and running a 4.46 40. He’s a guy who could probably factor in a hybrid defense as a hybrid player but Fangio doesn’t really use players like that although his defensive front is considered a hybrid one. Woods is going to have to show he’s a special teams demon to make this team as a practice squad guy.
Up Next: Running Backs