After Pisa Tinoisamoa signed a one-year deal with the Bears last May, lining him up alongside perennial Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs was supposed to give Chicago perhaps the best trio of 4-3 linebackers in the league.
Tinoisamoa had a solid training camp in Bourbonnais and was particularly impressive in the preseason, jumping incumbent Nick Roach on the depth chart at strong-side linebacker. But the Urlacher-Briggs-Tinoisamoa lineup didn't even last one series, as Tinoisamoa sprained his knee on the opening drive Week 1 at Green Bay. He returned after the bye for Week 6 at Atlanta, although the former Ram hurt the same knee and eventually landed on injured reserve for the balance of the schedule.
When asked if he would like to return to Chicago in 2010 despite having such a rough go of it the first time around, Tinoisamoa left little room for doubt.
"Absolutely," he said in the Halas Hall locker room Jan. 4, one day after the Bears beat the Lions 37-23 in the finale. "That's why I'm still here trying to get better and get right for next year."
Coming off a 7-9 disappointment and missing the playoffs for the third straight year, the Monsters of the Midway entered the offseason with lots of needs on either side of the football. General manager Jerry Angelo made a big splash on Day 1 of free agency, signing defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Peppers should finally add some teeth to a pass rush that hasn't gotten the job done since an appearance in Super Bowl XLI, Taylor provides a push for starter Matt Forte in the backfield and Manumaleuna is regarded as one of the better blockers in the league at his position.
As far as the linebackers are concerned, while Angelo did make tender offers to restricted free agents Roach and Jamar Williams, zero new faces have been added to the mix.
No effort has been made to re-sign Tinoisamoa thus far, at least no reported effort, even though common sense suggests the Bears could bring the 6-1, 240-pounder back on another inexpensive contract since he's coming off knee surgery.
That being said, based on what Chicago has been doing in preparation for the 2010 NFL Draft this April, perhaps the Tinoisamoa experiment on the strong side has already been scrapped.
According to research put together at BearReport.com, the Bears have shown serious interest in six linebackers eligible for next month's draft. They include a wide-ranging spectrum of prospects, from Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon, who could be a first-round pick and, therefore, out of consideration for Angelo since he's not on the clock until No. 75 in Round 3, to Indiana's Matt Mayberry, who didn't even get an invitation to last month's combine in Indianapolis. Other LBs on the radar are Donald Butler of Washington, Daryl Washington of TCU, Junior Galette of Stillman College and Damaso Munoz of Rutgers.
The only other position with a longer list of names is offensive line, where the Bears have seven centers, guards and tackles that have been confirmed.
The Midway Monsters keep as many as seven linebackers on the 53-man roster at a time, in large part because special teams coordinator Dave Toub always finds a use for them on the coverage units, and that kind of depth paid off last year with both Urlacher and Tinoisamoa getting injured. Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer started games on the strong side and in the middle. Williams started one game on the weak side in place of a banged-up Briggs.
With Urlacher, Briggs, Roach, Williams, Hillenmeyer and special-teams ace Tim Shaw already in the fold, plus a potential draft choice on the horizon, there may be no room left for Tinoisamoa – bargain or no bargain.
Should one of those linebackers come off the draft board next month and head to the Windy City, that might close the book on Urlacher-Briggs-Tinoisamoa for good.
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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.
Pisa May Not Be Back at LB After All
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