Know Your Bears — The Inside Linebackers

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Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman (tackling Packers receiver Davante Adams last season) was the top-rated inside linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus last season. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Ninth in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp July 27 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.



Inside  linebacker       Sixth year

6-2, 225                        San Jose State

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 31.

NFL experience: 69 games (69 starts).

Background: Undrafted out of Division III Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2009, Freeman played three seasons in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Freeman signed with the Colts in 2012, returned a Jay Cutler interception for a touchdown in his first game and started all 57 games he played with the Colts in four seasons. The Bears signed Freeman to a three-year, $12 million contract in 2016 and he led the team with 127 tackles (seven tackles-for-loss), despite missing four games while suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Notable: Freeman did not have a sack, interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery last season. He had 12 sacks, four interceptions, eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in four seasons with the Colts.

The skinny:The top-rated linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in 2016, Freeman is a dependable, efficiently productive player and arguably the team’s best leader — on the field, in the locker room and as a public voice. He figures to be even better in his second season in Vic Fangio’s defense.




Inside linebacker          Sixth season

6-1, 239                          Kentucky

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 27.

NFL experience: 59 games (40 starts).

Background: A sixth-round draft pick (188th overall) by the Broncos in 2012, Trevathan made the team as a rookie on special teams and became a 16-game starter the following season. Played only three games in 2014 because of a knee injury, but was a key complementary player on the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship team the following season. Solid but not spectacular when he was on the field in his first season with the Bears. Missed Weeks 3-4 with a thumb injury and the final five games with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. 

Notable: Trevathan had double-digit tackles in three games — 14 vs. the Texans; 14 vs. the Bucs and 11 vs. the Giants. But he playe din only one victory — seven tackles  and two pass break-ups against the Vikings at Soldier Field.

The skinny: Trevathan was unable to participate in the offseason program as he recovers from knee surgery and likely will start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. His availability for Week 1 might be a test of how the Bears’ injury luck is running this season. He’s upbeat, but we’ll have to see it to believe it.




Inside  linebacker        Second season

6-2, 242                         West Virginia

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick (114th overall) in 2016.

Age: 24.

NFL experience: 14 games (seven starts).

Background: A productive tackler at West Virginia, Kwiatkoski fell behind early in his rookie season when he missed most of training camp after suffering a pulled hamstring. He started his first NFL game in Week 3 and struggled against the Cowboys, but looked markedly improved — though still like a rookie — as a starter for Jerrell Freeman (suspension) and Danny Trevathan (injury) in the final seven weeks.

Notable: Kwiatkoski had 43 tackles (10 vs. the 49ers) five tackles for loss, one sack and two pass break-ups in those final seven starts.

The skinny: With Danny Trevathan likely to miss the beginning of the season as he recovers from 2016 knee surgery, Kwiatkoski will come into camp as the starter next to Jerrell Freeman. Kwiatkoski wasn’t quite a revelation last season, but showed enough — that he’s more than just a try-hard, hustle linebacker — that it wouldn’t be surprising if he made a second-year-in-the-NFL quantum leap and solidified that starting spot.




Outside/inside linebacker      Fourth year

6-3, 251                                       Florida State

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014.

Age: 26.

NFL experience: 47 games (20 starts).

Background: A star on Florida State’s national championship team of 2014, Jones was highly rated but went undrafted after failing a drug test at the Combine. Started at all three linebacker spots (five starts total) in Mel Tucker’s 4-3 as a rookie and had 98 tackles and two sacks. Started 13 games at inside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 in 2015 and had 98 tackles and no sacks. Started two games at outside linebacker in 2016, but played mostly special teams (112 defensive snaps).

Notable: Jones is one of four players remaining on the Bears who started under Marc Trestman — Kyle Long, Lamarr Houston and Kyle Fuller are the others.

The skinny: Though Jones hasn’t developed into the playmaker some though he could be with his athleticism, Jones provides versatility at linebacker and special-teams experience. The big question is how much the Bears will need that if Ryan Pace-acquired players develop. Jones opens camp on the roster bubble.




Inside  linebacker      Third year

6-0, 245                       Washington

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015.

Age: 24.

NFL experience: 18 games (seven starts).

Background: Made the team as a long shot in 2015 and started the final three games after spending 10 weeks on the practice squad and had 25 tackles in those three games. Opened the 2016 season on the practice squad but started in Week 4 in place of Danny Trevathan (thumb) and started three games in Weeks 13-15 when Trevathan suffered a season-ending knee injury. He had 21 tackles in those four starts.

Notable: Though not an imposing player, Timu has shown a knack for big plays. His perfectly timed blitz on a goal-line play stopped the Lions’ Zach Zenner for a two-yard loss in a 17-14 victory in Week 4 last year. Timu has three TFLs and two fumble recoveries in limited snaps in two seasons.

The skinny: Timu is unlikely to beat out Nick Kwiatkoski for the starting inside linebacker spot in place of Danny Trevathan, but Timu has been dependable and productive enough to warrant a good shot as a back-up. With better players around him than in previous seasons, he’s not a bad option if somebody gets hurt.




Inside linebacker    Third year

6-3, 235                    Texas Christian

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015.

Age: 25.

NFL experience: 19 games (three starts).

Background: After spending the first five games of his rookie season on the practice squad, Anderson played the final 11 games (three starts) and had 40 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, an interception and five pas break-ups. Anderson played in eight games in 2016 — spending seven weeks on the practice squad — with 161 of 181 snaps on special teams.

Notable: Showed a knack for being around the ball as a rookie. Anderson had an interception in his NFL debut vs. the Lions. He had 11 tackles in a victory over the Chargers.

The skinny: Danny Trevathan’s recovery from knee surgery likely opens a spot at inside linebacker but even then, Anderson faces a steep uphill battle to make the roster this season. The Bears just have better candidates than they’ve had, so opportunity will be as much the issue as anything.




Inside  linebacker    Rookie

6-3, 190                     Coastal Carolina

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Age: 24.

NFL experience: None.

Background: Productive playmaker in his final two seasons at Coastal Carolina, but particularly in 2016, when he was named an AP first-team FCS All-American and finished sixth in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award as the best defensive player in FCS. Had a team-high 84 tackles, a school-record eight sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss, five interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and seven pass break-ups. Had a tackle-for-loss or interception in all 12 games in 2016. Started seven games at safety as a freshman before transitioning to will linebacker. 

Notable: A consistent playmaker at the FCS level, Scearce was responsible for five defensive touchdowns last season — two interceptions returns, one recovered fumble and two forced fumbles that teammates returned for a touchdown.

The skinny: Scearce obviously faces a huge challenge of not only making the transition from FCS to the NFL, but getting the opportunity in training camp to show what he can do. With his size, athleticism, instincts and versatility he warrants a good look. But he’s a long, long shot.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.


Know Your Bears — The Defensive Line

Know Your Bears — The Offensive Tackles

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