LB review: Injuries, rookies sent unit downhill
Through the first few weeks of the season, it was all rainbows and lollipops for the Bears’ linebackers. Lance Briggs looked as good as ever and newcomers D.J. Williams and James Anderson were making plays against the run and pass.
Injuries struck, and everything fell apart for another Bears position that could see big changes in 2014. Linebackers coach Tim Tibesar was fired for its failures.
Williams tore his pectoral muscle in the win against the Giants and Lance Briggs missed seven games after fracturing his shoulder against the Redskins.
With Williams and Briggs out, the development of Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene accelerated, and the run defense turned into the worst in the league. Through six weeks, the Bears were 12th in the league against the run, allowing 102.0 yards a game. They finished allowing 161.4 yards a contest.
Bostic and Greene struggled with the run and to make tackles, something Williams was doing at a high level before getting hurt. Briggs was the defense’s best player, making plays behind the line, but he wasn’t the same in his two games back at the end of the year.
As much as coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery wanted to talk about how good the ‘D’ was when Williams and Briggs were healthy, the team’s play without them is what will be remembered most.
2014 contract situations
Anderson and Williams both came to the Bears on one-year contracts last offseason. Williams received praise from Trestman and Emery in the Jan. 2 news conference, and despite his injury history, could be back to help shore up the run defense until the Bears find a long-term answer at middle linebacker. He said that he’d like to remain in Chicago.
Anderson’s return is likely more in doubt. He was a good veteran presence, but if the Bears move Shea McClellin to ‘Sam’ linebacker to compete with Greene, they may not be able to bring back Anderson, who was great in coverage and had some stops behind the line but was on the field for almost every play for the miserable run defense.
Special-teams veteran Blake Costanzo will be a free agent. Briggs is entering the final year of his deal in 2014.
Is Bostic’s future on the outside? It sure seems that way, based on Emery’s comments, but that still leaves a gaping hole in the middle if Williams isn’t re-signed. Bostic could be Briggs’ heir apparent on the weak side. As with the D-line, we’ll know more when we have an idea of what defensive coordinator Mel Tucker envisions for his scheme next season.
All that we pretty much know about this position for 2014 is that Briggs will be starting ... somewhere. Outside of that, it’s clearly a need to find players who bring the physicality and athleticism Emery likes in his prospects, as well as players who understand run gaps and make sure tackles.
The Bears have four linebackers on the roster for next year, three who are candidates to start, so it appears to be a better situation than some other positions on defense. But that doesn’t mean there are not question marks everywhere.