2009 Position by Position Review: LB

After a disappointing 7-9 record in 2009, it's time to take a look back at the Chicago Bears and discover what went right and what went so incredibly wrong. Wednesday, we line up the linebacking corps.

2009 Review
It's difficult to be critical of the Midway Monster linebackers from this past season, as former Defensive Player of the Year Brian Urlacher dislocated his wrist in Week 1 at Green Bay and was immediately moved to injured reserve.

Both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach commanded the middle in Urlacher's stead, with Hillenmeyer proving to be a better option because of his overall knowledge of the scheme, but No. 54 is simply an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle – even if he's not the one-man wrecking crew he used to be. Making matters worse, free-agent addition Pisa Tinoisamoa, who looked to be a perfect fit on the strong side, was also hurt in the season opener and only suited up for one more game before his own transfer to IR. While Lance Briggs was his usual brilliant self on the weak side and earned his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl berth, not having Urlacher and Tinoisamoa on the field with him turned out to be devastating.

Briggs, Urlacher and Tinoisamoa had the makings of perhaps the best trio of 4-3 LBs in the league, yet they lined up together for less than one full series.

Inside the Numbers
The Monsters of the Midway blitzed a good amount in 2009 in an attempt to make up for their inconsistent defensive line, but the linebackers as a whole managed only six sacks: 2.5 each from Briggs and Hillenmeyer, one from Roach. Setting a team-high in a single game this year, fourth-year backup Jamar Williams recorded an impressive 18 tackles subbing for Briggs in Week 13 against the Rams.

LB Hunter Hillenmeyer
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Thumbs Up
He may not be a "special" linebacker in the way Urlacher was in his prime, but Briggs remains one of the best open-field tacklers in the game and really stepped up from a leadership perspective after being named a defensive captain for the first time. Not even a lock to make the final 53-man roster when he arrived for training camp, Hillenmeyer played very well and seemed to be more comfortable in the middle than he ever was on the strong side.

Thumbs Down
Billed as special-teams aces earlier in their careers, neither Roach nor Williams was nearly as effective on the coverage units as Tim Shaw, who came out of nowhere to dominate and might be the next Brendon Ayanbadejo. Urlacher deserved to be heavily criticized for the disparaging comments he made about his own team to Yahoo! Sports during the season, as his public-relations firm seems to have been on vacation for quite some time now.

2010 Preview
Urlacher was especially excited for 2009 because he was finally over the back and neck troubles that had slowed him down in '07 and '08, but now he'll have to rehab his wrist and isn't ready for football activity just yet.

Since Tinoisamoa only came to the Windy City on a one-year deal and didn't have an opportunity to do much during that year, it remains to be seen if he will be re-signed for 2010. If the Bears choose to spend their money in other places, then Roach may have to bulk up a bit in the offseason if he wants to be the best strong-side linebacker he can be. Williams is growing impatient and knows he should be a starter in this league by now, but unless there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place by March, he will be a restricted free agent as opposed to unrestricted – Chicago might match any offer he gets to protect the depth chart.

We know Briggs is still going to be one of the best weak-side defenders in the NFL come next season, although, aside from that, we don't really know much about this group right now.

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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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