King of the Hill

While all 11 starters are returning on defense, there is room for competition. The one position that will be worth keeping an eye on is strong-side linebacker, where there are currently three players battling for the job.

Although Hunter Hillenmeyer is currently atop the depth chart, his hold on the position is far from secure.

"That is one position that's wide open as far as competition, and we're going to play whoever earns that right," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "That's what we said last year when we gave him (Hillenmeyer) the chance to be the Sam (strong-side) linebacker."

Hillenmeyer did an adequate job in four starts on the strong-side. He finished the year with 90 tackles, the bulk of which came in seven starts in place of Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.

The Bears are looking for a strong-side linebacker that has the ability to go after the quarterback. Hillenmeyer had two sacks year, which was tied for fifth on the team.

"You pretty much have to be just like our Will (weak-side) linebacker," Rivera said. "We do ask the Sam to do a little more blitzing, so you've got to have a little bit of pass-rush ability.

"You're looking for that guy who's explosive, who can get up the field and put a little pressure on the quarterback. And at the same time, when we get into another front, we're going to put you on the tight end, so you've got to be able to handle the tight end as well."

Joe Odom and Marcus Reese also started games on the strong-side and will be given a chance to compete with Hillenmeyer.

The preference is to add a veteran linebacker through free agency. Former Bear Warrick Holdman has been mentioned, but there is some question of whether he would return to Chicago after being cut a year ago in salary cap related move.

Veteran Kevin Hardy hit the market Tuesday after being cut by the Cincinnati Bengals. There's no doubt his better days are behind him, as he'll turn 32 in July, still he could serve as a one-year stopgap.

Seventh round pick Rod Wilson is a project that will take time to develop. He only spent a year at linebacker in college, yet the Bears were interested in him because he has the athletic ability they crave at the position.

"He fits the mold that we like as far as linebackers because he is a run and hit guy and he's got pretty good instincts," said Greg Gabriel, director of college scouting.


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