Positional Analysis: Linebacker

The Bears have two of the best linebackers in the game and a third that's coming into his own. However, the depth at the position is something the team plans to address in the off-season.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer. Backups - Leon Joe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jeremy Cain. Injured backups - Joe Odom, Marcus Reese.

Briggs and Urlacher may be the best linebacker tandem in the NFL. Urlacher, the NFL's defensive player of the year, had 171 tackles this season, one more than Briggs. Both are every-down players who have excellent range, especially Urlacher, who makes more spectacular plays.

Urlacher, who will turn 28 in the off-season, is in the prime of his career. The way he relies on his speed and athleticism to make plays means wear and tear could start to have an impact on his game as he reaches 30. The next couple years should be his best as a professional and the Bears don't want to waste them by taking a step backwards.

Briggs has developed from a third round pick to an All-Pro. He has one year left on his current contract and is in line for a large raise. With Drew Rosenhaus representing him, the contract talks could get heated. After making a trade for another one of his clients in Adewale Ogunleye, the Bears have a good relationship with the controversial agent. There is some question whether or not Briggs could be as effective without Urlacher, which means the Bears might hesitant to break the bank on a new contract.

Hillenmeyer is underrated and underappreciated, but he is a thinking man's player with toughness. He's a restricted free agent that expects to be back. Hillenmeyer is also the backup to Urlacher in the middle.

All the backups are undersized players who can run, which is vital in the Bears' scheme. Joe is probably the most athletic, while Ayanbadejo is one of the league's best special teams players. Odom and Reese have both started games in the past and are restricted free agents. Cain is headed to NFL Europe in search of playing time and experience.

The Bears will most likely use the draft to upgrade the depth and talent at the position. Finding someone to push Hillenmeyer for his starting job would create healthy competition going into training camp. A draft pick would also provide a safety net if contract talks with Briggs take a turn for the worse.

The most important reason for addressing the depth is if one of the starters goes down for an extended period of time. Having an insurance policy would minimize the drop off in the defense, something the team didn't have when Urlacher missed 7 games in 2004.

GM Jerry Angelo has proven he doesn't need to use a high draft pick to find talent at linebacker. He knows as well as anyone what type of qualities a player needs to succeed at the position in Smith's defense. The key is to find athletic football players as opposed to workout warriors that look good at the combine but struggle with pads.

Scout.com contributed to this report.


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