Pro Bowl Shoes to Fill at WLB

Bears fans around Chicagoland and across the country have been bad-mouthing Lance Briggs for his contractual demands and subsequent holdout. The organization may be winning the battle over public opinion, but that doesn't change the fact that Briggs is a special player and not so easily replaced. Second-year pro Jamar Williams is first in line, but he has a long way to go.

Lance Briggs may not be the most popular man in the Windy City these days, but like it or not, he's bar none the best weakside linebacker.

With each passing day, it appears as if the Chicago Bears will get to find out for sure in 2007 as their two-time Pro-Bowl linebacker continues to sit at home in California. After being slapped with the franchise tag in the offseason, Briggs has threatened to sit for a year and vows to never play another down for the Monsters of the Midway. The organization is apparently willing to call his bluff because he would be walking away from $7.2 million in guaranteed money.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Briggs was a no-show at this past weekend's mini camp in Lake Forest.

It's more than likely that Briggs will eventually cave and report to Halas Hall shortly before the regular season. Considering the fact that each of his 16 game checks is worth $450,000 and change, the Bears certainly have all the leverage at this point. Not to mention that he is in the prime of his career and needs to prove to other teams that he is indeed an elite player worthy of all those millions.

Either way, the Bears are busy putting together their contingency plan should No. 55 continue to suffer from Rosenhaus-itis.

First in line is Jamar Williams, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006 who played in three games as a rookie before being placed on injured reserve with a banged-up shoulder. At 6' and 234 pounds, He has the speed and quickness to play on the weak side in a Cover 2 defense and is similarly built to Briggs. He has been working with the first-team defense throughout the offseason program and drawn rave reviews from head coach Lovie Smith and All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Williams himself has been steering clear of the Briggs talk primarily because he feels it's none of his business.

"I'm trying to stay out of the whole Briggs situation," Williams said after Sunday's mini camp practice. "What happens with that is not my direct concern. It's between him and the team. For the time being, I am getting significantly more playing time with the starters. It's helping me a lot as far as getting back into playing shape."

No matter what ultimately happens to Briggs, Williams appears ready to accept his role.

"The Briggs situation has been unfortunate," he said. "But we all understand that every player is out to get the deal that is ultimately best for him. I don't think any less of him for that. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself on all of this. So much is unresolved. Instead, I concentrate on what I need to bring on the field each day. If I learn something, if I can improve, then I'm satisfied. If he returns to the team, then that's fine. If he doesn't come back, my job is to be ready to contribute as much as I can to the position."

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Briggs may as well be President of the Jamar Williams Fan Club – the better Williams plays, perhaps the more likely the Bears will deem Briggs expendable and sever all ties.

Another below-the-radar player who has seen a noticeable jump in his repititions is Darrell McClover. Originally a seventh-rounder to the New York Jets in 2004, McClover joined the Bears in the middle of last season and played well in seven games on special teams. At 6'2" and 226 pounds, he also possesses the wheels and athleticism that Smith requires of his weakside linebacker.

McClover is now getting some quality time on defense for the first time in his Bears career.

"I'm enjoying the opportunity this year to get a little more time working out with the first team," said McClover. "It's way too early to see where this whole thing with Lance will end up, but I see it as my job and my responsibility to be prepared for however the coaches plan to use me. I've had time since last year to understand the Bears' system, and I feel that I'm ready to build on what I've learned already."

McClover knows he isn't the front-runner to replace Briggs, but he sees no reason why he can't come out on top.

"There's good depth and certainly competition for the starting job with things as they are right now," he said. "I plan to be right there in the mix. And if things should change, then I'll be more than ready to contribute on special teams. My main focus is being physically and mentally ready with [training] camp coming up. There's some time between now and then, and I'm certain I'll be at my peak once that begins. The coaches will tell me more about where I'm going to fit in once the official training camp begins, so where I'll end up ultimately in the depth chart is of no interest or importance to me now."

If Briggs has indeed played his last game for the Bears, then that will add yet another question mark to a defense with a few already:

Can Mike Brown finally stay healthy? Will Tommie Harris be back at full strength? Is Adam Archuleta the player he used to be? Should Mark Anderson start ahead of Alex Brown? How long will Tank Johnson be suspended?

He may be a question mark, but Williams understands that this might be his best shot to make a name for himself in the NFL and isn't taking the responsibility lightly.

"Every player in the league wants an opportunity," he said. "And this could be my big chance."

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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