Bears have quantity, do they have quality at LB?

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football field

Editor’s note: continuing our look at the various position groups ahead of training camp. Today, the linebackers.

With a shift to a base 3-4 defense, the Chicago Bears enter the 2015 season with major questions at the Linebacker position.

There’s no shortage of candidates, considering that holdover defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young,  and David Bass will shift from their hand in the dirt to stand-up pass rushers. Whether they can transition effectively is another question.

The veteran Allen looks to bounce back from a subpar 2014 where injuries and illness robbed him of his quick first step. He’s openly embraced the defensive change, but many question if indeed an old dog can learn new tricks. To his credit, Allen held his own as a run stuffer last season, and has worked diligently in off-season workouts to demonstrate he has the needed instincts and range to cover speedy backs out in space.

For Houston and Young, the first hurdle will be to show they’ve sufficiently recovered from major injuries. Both will be limited in camp. Houston has a slight edge, given his previous experience in the 3-4 at Oakland. He disappointed  in his first year at Chicago, but has the necessary body type to be a three-down player for new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Young was the Bears best pass rusher in 2014, but appears more suited to a 4-3 alignment. His ability to move to a new spot will be a training camp story to monitor.

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Bass, meanwhile, is a intriguing player given who is entering his third pro season. He’s shown brief glimpses and could be an ascending player. He has some first-step quickness, large wingspan, and enough athletic ability to cover in space.

The Bears will count heavily on their prize free agent catch of this offseason, former Baltimore Raven Pernell McPhee. McPhee is a strong pass rusher with a thick build, strong hands, and a angry playing disposition. The knock on McPhee is that he hasn’t been a fulltime player in the past and benefitted from the Ravens strong pass rush. He’ll be expected to contribute double digit sacks in Chicago and turn into a defensive playmaker.

Another free agent import, Sam Acho, comes over from Arizona hoping to revert to his rookie form when he was a constant sack threat and lived in the backfield. The injury bug hampered his play over the last two seasons with the Cardinals,  making him expendable. If healthy, Acho is an athletic outside rusher with explosion yet nimble enough in pass coverage.

Inside, there are more bodies. Jon Bostic nears a make-or-break season. He has the physical attributes but hasn’t been able to translate it on the field. Injury issues have limited his offseason conditioning and he may fall out of the rotation without a strong camp.

Christian Jones was moved inside at the new coaching staff’s discretion. He impresses with the size, speed, and strength, and played well  late in the year. He definitely looks the part, but needs added experience and consistency.

The continued rebooting of former first-rounder Shea McClellin begins a new chapter. McClellin’s transition from defensive end to outside backer to the inside developed over the

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spring. McClellin made a couple plays last season but was largely inconsistent and struggled against the run. He’s never been able to become the playmaker or remain healthy enough to demonstrate any long-term value. This should be his last chance with the Bears.u

Tampa Bay free-agent signee Mason Foster shows promise after two uneven seasons. Following a standout rookie campaign with the Bucs, Foster endured a change in defenses and injuries that reduced his effectiveness. Foster works best in a 3-4 scheme where he can rely on his instincts and footwork to make plays. He may be the surest thing in the Bears revamped linebacker corps.

 

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