Leading up to the NFL draft, which begins May 8, the Sun-Times will take a position-by-position look at the Bears’ needs and which players might be available to fill them.
Coming off a borderline catastrophic season for their linebackers, the Bears have chosen to rebuild the unit not with new faces but with familiar ones.
The team re-signed D.J. Williams, whom it expects to start at middle linebacker after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Week 6 last season.
Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs is back, too, though he will wear a harness on his left shoulder to protect it after suffering a fracture last season.
And the Shea McClellin experiment will begin at strong-side linebacker, with the former defensive end shifting to compete with second-year player Jon Bostic for the starting job. Neither has played the position in the pros.
Bostic and backup weak-side linebacker Khaseem Greene were among the first four players the Bears drafted last year. So why would the team consider drafting another linebacker?
Briggs’ contract expires at the end of the season, and Williams is signed to a one-year deal. Even if McClellin shines as a rush-first linebacker — and that’s no guarantee — the Bears would have to be confident Bostic and Greene could start in 2015. That seems like a leap.
Bostic was brought in to replace Brian Urlacher, but his move to the outside after one season means he’s more likely to take Lance Briggs’ place. So the Bears still need a long-term middle linebacker.
Bostic and Greene struggled in place of Briggs and Williams last season. From Williams’ injury through the end of the year, Bostic and Greene were given only two positive game grades apiece by Pro Football Focus.
But circumstances figure to prevent the Bears from selecting a linebacker in the first round. The team has other needs — safety and defensive tackle — that are more pressing.
It also seems unlikely that either of the two premier linebackers in the draft — Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Anthony Barr of UCLA — will last to No. 14.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley might be available, and he’d be an ideal long-term middle linebacker. But with Williams in the fold, it’s unclear how much Mosley would play this season.
Instead, look for the Bears to find a linebacker starting in the third round. They’ll hope he can provide depth for now and push Bostic and Greene next year, when competition for a starting job could heat up.