Positional Analysis: Linebacker

When Lovie Smith became the head coach of the Bears one of his first personnel decisions was to move Lance Briggs from strong to weak side linebacker. However an injury to Brian Urlacher may flip the switch.

The Bears consider Briggs a playmaker and the idea behind moving him to WLB was to take advantage of that quality by freeing him from worrying about the tight end, allowing him to roam in space.

When Urlacher first went down Briggs, a middle linebacker at Arizona, became the top option to replace the four-time Pro Bolwer until he returned from a hamstring strain.

When Briggs slid over to the middle, Marcus Reese replaced him at Will linebacker. Joe Odom remained the starter at the strong side.

However over the past few days there has a drastic change. Hunter Hillenmeyer has been with the first team defense at the middle, while Briggs moved over to the strong side, leaving Reese at weak and making Odom a backup.

"Right now we have (Joe) Odom, we have Marcus Reese and of course we have Lance Briggs competing for time," Smith said. "Joe hasn't taken a step backwards. We just would like to get Lance in his position, so that really kind of bumps the rest of the guys and Hunter has played well."

Smith has rotated players in with the first team that weren't considered starters heading to Bourbonnais. That's a definite departure from Dick Jauron's philosophy, as he rarely worked projected subs in with the starters during training camp.

Thus far, the offensive line has seen several different combinations and now with Urlacher out the same can be said for linebacker.

"Every year I've been in the league, the linebackers have been in a constant rotation because we play with smaller guys and the odds are that they'll be injured sometime during the course of the year," he said. "Players have to play a couple different positions and that's what we're able to do right now. This is only going to make us a better team later on."

Just two years ago the Bears arguably had the best trio of linebackers in the game, but the salary cap era Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman are elsewhere. Meaning the Bears have been forced to go with the youth movement at linebacker.

"We'll make up for the lack of experience with effort," said Briggs, who started 13 games as a rookie. "We have some fast, fast guys out there and they learn well. They learn pretty fast and they've been at it all summer. I think that we'll be fine as long as everybody plays hard."

Briggs will be a starter at one of the outside slots and Urlacher will patrol the middle when he returns, so it will come down to who impresses the coaches more between Odom and Reese. The oddity is that the players are competing for a starting job from two different positions.

At 6-foot-1, 235 pounds Reese has speed to burn and is a perfect fit for the weak side, while Odom is better suited for the strong side because of his power.

"We feel like we have four linebackers right now that's proven to us that they can play and we'll see how it shapes out," Smith said.

At this point it appears Reese is wowing the decision-makers, which is a surprise considering he was an undrafted free agent that split his rookie campaign between the San Francisco 49ers and Bears practice squads. Chicago allocated him to NFL Europe and he got a chance to play with the Cologne Centurions. Coming to camp Reese was a long shot to make the 53-man roster, let alone be in the starting lineup.

Still four preseason games will go a long way toward determining who will be the third member of the Bears linebacking core.

"Obviously he's prototypical of what we're looking for with the scheme," said GM Jerry Angelo. "We like the kid, hard worker, he's bright, he's a tough guy, so he's got all the traits and this is what camp's all about, to look at guys like this."

The odd man out appears to be Bryan Knight. Expected to compete with Odom for the strong side opening, there is a good chance that Knight won't even make the team. Smith is looking for linebackers with speed and that's not his game.

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