After losing the face of the franchise in the first game last season, the Chicago Bears defense attempted admirably to make up for the loss of Brian Urlacher. This season, Urlacher returns to a unit that boasts considerable talent. Lance Briggs has missed a mere two games in his career and recorded at least 100 tackles in each year since his rookie campaign. Rounding out the corps is a pair of athletes who have found a permanent home with Chicago. Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer have done well considering their talent levels. Pisa Tinoisamoa also returns after playing portions of only two games in 2009 with a bum knee.
Urlacher and Briggs are two of the best tackling linebackers in the NFL. Both posses good speed for their position and can disrupt an offense for all four quarters. Briggs is in the middle of his prime and will help pick up the slack as Urlacher ages. Briggs' ability to be a ballhawk makes the defense all the more dangerous. But the key to success will be if Urlacher can pull a Joey Porter and post the best season of his career at the ripe age of 32.
A team can never have enough elite linebackers. The Bears could use more depth in order to prevent against a steep drop-off in case Urlacher has nothing left in the tank. Much like the Cardinals' signing of Porter, the Bears may benefit from adding another veteran presence to the linebacking group. Chicago linebackers have also struggled to pressure the passer over the past two years. Urlacher, Briggs, Roach and Hillenmeyer have combined for just 7.5 sacks total during that span. Adding a pass-rushing linebacker could be the boost needed to improve their production.
LB Nick Roach
AP Images: M. Spencer Green
Urlacher has reached his potential and is now on the down side of his career. Briggs has another two or three seasons of peak performance left. The youngster, Roach, has showed steady improvement in each season and could factor into replacing some of the aging veterans. However, he'll have to beat out the more experienced Tinoisamoa, something he wasn't able to do in 2009. Hillenmeyer played above his skill level last season and likely will not repeat his 90-tackle performance. At least the Bears hope he doesn't, as that likely means Urlacher must have been injured again.
On paper, the Bears have an impressive group of linebackers. Whether that will translate to the field remains to be seen. Urlacher is not the explosive catalyst he once was, and Briggs cannot do it on his own. Hillenmeyer makes for a quality backup but is not a consistent starter. Roach has the potential, although he is still a year or two away from making a huge impact. While Tinoisamoa racked up a ton of tackles in this defense as a Ram, that was as a weak-side defender and not on the strong side, where he plays now.
The Bears rank eighth overall at the linebacker position. Directly in front of them are James Harrison
and the Pittsburgh Steelers. DeMarcus Ware
and the Dallas Cowboys rank No. 1 overall. As for the rest of the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers rank ninth, the Minnesota Vikings are 15th and the Detroit Lions come in at 23rd.
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