Positional Overview: Linebacker

With Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the Bears have two Pro Bowl caliber players at linebacker. However, the search is on for someone to complete the trio.

Urlacher fell under criticism when a Sporting News story deemed him the most overrated player in the NFL. The piece came out in the midst of an injury plagued campaign for the middle linebacker.

While Urlacher failed to be voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his five-year career, the most important stat is that the Bears were 0-7 without him on the field.

Hamstring problems limited him to nine games and eventually landed him on Injured Reserve. Urlacher still finished the season with 105 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Briggs took major strides in his second season. He became the first Bear other than Urlacher to lead the team in tackles since 1999. His play earned him Pro Bowl alternate status, which is a steppingstone for a young player to gain recognition around the league.

The six-foot-1, 238-pounder thrived on the weak-side, compiling 168 tackles, 10 of which were behind the line of scrimmage.

Three players started on the strong-side and will compete for the role this season, unless the Bears add a veteran through free agency.

Hunter Hillenmeyer will be the favorite to win the job. He filled in for Urlacher at middle linebacker and also started four times on the strong-side side. Hillenmeyer finished with 90 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Although Marcus Reese turned heads in training camp, a hamstring injury before the start of the season derailed his momentum. The length of his recovery pushed him down the depth chart and he had to start again from the bottom.

Despite the fact that Joe Odom has the most experience, he's running third in the derby. Odom started three games as a rookie, but a groin injury cut his season short and limited his off-season conditioning. He still seems to be trying to regain his confidence after being shuffled in and out of the lineup.

LeVar Woods signed with the Bears without a lot of fanfare. The veteran will provide depth and help on special teams, but starting would be a stretch.

The Bears used their final selection in the draft on a project at linebacker. Rod Wilson is an athlete still learning to play the position, which could payoff down the road. For now, Wilson will struggle to be active on game day and could land on the practice squad.

A dark horse worth keeping an eye on is Derrick Ballard. He's put together a solid NFL Europe campaign and could work his way into the mix. The converted defensive back is on the light side at 205 pounds, but has the speed the Bears want in their linebackers.

The search is on for a veteran to play along side Urlacher and Briggs. The ideal fit would be a two-down performer that can occasionally pressure the quarterback.

Anthony Simmons visited Halas Hall last week. He's coming off wrist surgery and would likely not be ready to go until training camp. Kevin Hardy and Peter Boulware also remain on the market.


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