With Urlacher Gone, What Is the Bears' Next Step at Middle Linebacker?
As reported by ESPN, Brian Urlacher and the Bears are no more, as the team announced on Wednesday that the two will part ways. Now, you can certainly discuss whether this was the right or wrong move, if it was handled well or the fallout, but what's done is done.
Now, the question is: how do the Bears fill the void?
There are really only two choices that can be made since the departures of Nick Roach and Geno Hayes have left the Bears with no in-house candidates to replace Urlacher. I wasn't a huge fan of Roach in particular, but after cutting Urlacher loose, it would have helped to have Roach back in the fold as insurance.
But, as previously stated, what's done is done, so the team must now resolve this situation either through the final gasps of free agency or via the draft.
Let's assume that they will take both approaches, and here, we will look at the options that the team has in both areas.
Most of the top choices are long gone in what was really a poor crop of free agent middle linebackers to begin with.
Justin Durant, who played for the Detroit Lions last season, isn't a bad fit, and he has the ability to stop the run and pile up tackles. He's not a great pass-rusher, which isn't a huge issue at middle linebacker, and he was pretty productive last year.
Another in-division option is Brad Jones, a former Packer who finally started to get on his feet last year. Jones showed some good range and speed last year, and he looks like he could, at the very least, be a part of a linebacker rotation.
Karlos Dansby would be a very short- term answer, given that he's just about as old as Urlacher, but he has been less banged up and more productive over the last few years than the latter. Dansby could be a solid transitional inside linebacker.
Along the same vein are guys like Demorrio Williams, Barrett Ruud, Takeo Spikes and others—old, serviceable and not a long-term solution.
The unfortunate truth is that the future of the Bears' middle linebacker position isn't out there in free agency and probably never was.
We've covered this before, though some things have changed a bit in terms of where people might be selected next month.
Still, several names continue to pop up over and over again.
Manti Te'o has been kicked around as a potential No. 20 selection, but that's high for him. A lot of his games show that he is a smart football player who is able to find the ball and make plays—and then there is the National Championship game.
On the one hand, the whole Notre Dame defense collapsed, and there is only so much one player can do when the whole team is overwhelmed by the Crimson Tide Zerg. On the other hand, shouldn't a guy like Te'o—who had been hyped for the Heisman and won a ton of trophies at his position—have more of an impact regardless of the defense around him?
It may be that Te'o plays better with solid players around him, which actually works in the Bears' defense. Surrounded by Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and the "Wonder Twins" of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, Te'o would have a tremendous supporting cast that can help him while he learns the NFL game.
Again, though, he is not the most likely pick, as the No. 20 overall slot just seems too high for him.
I like Kevin Minter quite a bit. The LSU defender is a sharp player who understands the brainier aspects of the game. He's not as athletic as some teams like their middle linebackers to be, but he's very aggressive and shows tremendous anticipation of the snap and the play.
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree comes with baggage as well as a ton of talent. Ultimately, it's a matter of whether or not the Bears feel that he can be guided and controlled off the field. If the answer to that is "yes," then Ogletree has the physical attributes to be dominant at the linebacker position. I've had Ogletree at outside linebacker, but as I've done more study, I now feel that he can play the inside position just as well.
The same goes for Arthur Brown of Kansas State, who can play either inside or outside. The biggest question surrounding him is his size, though he plays bigger than he looks. Still, that may not stop him from being overwhelmed at the pro level. Aside from that concern though, he is a tremendous prospect and, much like the others listed above, he's got the football IQ to excel at the mental aspect of the game.
If you're replacing Urlacher, intelligence is the main aspect that you need to replace. The players above all have the anticipatory skills which have helped Urlacher be the fixture of the Bears' defense for years.
While it would have been more helpful to have Urlacher around to mentor a new guy as he transitions into his role, his departure was inevitable.
Maybe it's better this way, much like ripping a band-aid off quickly. It stings, but you will get it over quickly and can move on right away.
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