Year in Review: Linebackers

The Chicago Bears have a rich history of great play at the linebacker position. Lance Briggs continued that tradition, but Brian Urlacher looks to be on the down side of his stellar career at 30 years old. Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the LBs while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
Both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs received big paydays from the organization this past offseason, but only one of them proved to be worth the investment.


LB Brian Urlacher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Briggs deserves a lot of credit, not only for living up to the six-year, $36 million contract he signed but also doing some rehabilitation on his seriously damaged reputation off the field. He earned his fourth straight trip to the Pro Bowl after leading the defense with 110 tackles, and many of them were of the bone-crunching variety as he delivered more than a few kill shots from his weak-side position. Urlacher, on the other hand, didn't make very many plays in the middle and flat-out disappeared in a few ballgames, so one has to wonder what kind of return the Bears will get after giving him an extra $18 million following neck surgery.

Incumbent Hunter Hillenmeyer got banged up and was eventually moved out of the starting lineup in favor of second-year speedster Nick Roach, although neither one of them played particularly well over on the strong side – it may be time for an upgrade.

Inside the Numbers
The Bears played rather well against the run most of the year and surrendered just 93.5 yards per game on the ground, fifth in the NFL, as the linebackers often crowded the line of scrimmage in an effort to confuse the offense's blocking assignments. But that extra aggressiveness in the box cost the D dearly in the passing game, with the Midway Monsters falling all the way to 30th in the league defending the pass at 241.2 yards per game allowed through the air – including a ridiculous number of slant routes and crossing patterns right behind the 'backers. Briggs and Urlacher did pick off five passes between them, but they were borderline worthless on the blitz and combined for only half a sack.

Thumbs Up
Not long ago, it was assumed Briggs would leave Chicago to cash the biggest free agent check he could find on the open market. And when he wasn't telling the world on radio and television how underpaid he was, he was running away from crashed Lamborghinis and fathering children out of wedlock. The stage was set for him to put his between-the-lines play on cruise control, but instead he earned every penny of that lucrative deal and appears to have done some long-overdue growing up.

Thumbs Down
Urlacher will go down as one of the greatest Bears in history no matter what he does the rest of his career, but he's in denial if he thinks he's still a difference-maker in this league. However, a lot of people thought Baltimore's Ray Lewis was washed up a few years ago, yet here he is playing at an elite level once again and leading another suffocating Ravens defense into championship Sunday at 33 years of age. Roach is built more like a weak-side linebacker than a strong-side linebacker, and it's still a mystery why Jamar Williams wasn't given a look.

2009 Preview
We know both Briggs and Urlacher will be back because of the dollars involved, but it remains to be seen what happens at the other starting spot.


LB Nick Roach
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Briggs is in the prime of his career and remains one of the better open-field tacklers in the game, although there is still room for improvement in terms of getting sacks and forcing fumbles. While Urlacher may never get back to the automatic All-Pro most Bears fans took for granted all those years, he can still be effective and maybe even a Pro Bowler again if the D-tackles in front of him can occupy more blockers. Hillenmeyer is a good candidate to be cut in the offseason since the coaching staff finally made an effort to get a better athlete on the field, but Roach is far from a perfect fit and needs to be pushed in training camp by a free agent or draft pick.

In free agency, Leroy Hill of the Seahawks is used to being the third banana at linebacker playing alongside Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson. As for the draft, USC's Clay Matthews, who is projected as a second-rounder, has NFL pedigree and played for one of the better college defenses in recent memory.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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