Hillenmeyer is Unlikely Favorite

There were times that Hunter Hillenmeyer looked like he would not make the 53-man roster a year ago. However, the team decided to stick with him and it looks like the investment could payoff in filling the starting strong side linebacker spot.

Hillenmeyer was a special-teams player and backup linebacker until last season, when he stepped in at middle linebacker while Brian Urlacher was injured. Hillenmeyer wound up starting seven games in the middle, and he played so well that he earned a full-time starting spot on the strong side.

According to linebackers coach Bob Babich, Hillenmeyer has a strong hold on the strong-side job, even though that position isn't nearly as settled as the other two linebacker spots with Urlacher in the middle and last year's leading tackler Lance Briggs on the weak side.

"He's entrenched as the starter," Babich said of Hillenmeyer. "Hunter has taken over that spot. For somebody to beat him out, they'd have to do a good job."

If Hillenmeyer can complete the starting trio, he will be asked to rush the passer on occasion as well as hold up in pass coverage against the tight end. He finished with 90 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Joe Odom and Marcus Reese combine to start seven games at the position last year and will also be given a chance to earn the role.

Jeremy Cain could be a dark horse in the competition. He spent the bulk of last season on the practice squad, but finished the final five games on the active roster. At six-foot-1, 235 pounds he has the speed element the Bears search for in their linebackers.

As an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts, Cain was a two-time All-American and finished his college career with 363 tackles, while starting his final 32 games for the Minutemen.

The Bears feel confident enough in Hillenmeyer that if he weren't to start a pleasant surprise would have to occur in Bourbonnais.

"Hunter has done a great job of really improving himself as a linebacker and we feel comfortable with him," said head coach Lovie Smith "If someone beats him out, we're getting even a better player at that position."

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