Chicago Bears Still on the Lookout for SAM I Am

Brett SoleskyCorrespondent IMay 4, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 23:  Linebacker Marcus Freeman of Ohio State runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 23, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
The basic assumption with the drafting of Marcus Freeman, the linebacker out of Ohio State that the Bears took in the sixth round, was that he would compete for the SAM linebacker spot.
Word out of rookie mini-camp this weekend, however, has Freeman listed as a WILL linebacker—rightfully so by my estimate, in that Freeman is built like a WILL at only 6-feet, 239 pounds.
He is not the type of player who fits the ideal mold for a SAM linebacker in the 4-3 defense.

That leaves the question, who exactly is going to compete with Hunter Hillenmeyer for the SAM spot?"

That spot in the line up struggled to show a consistent level of production last year.

Sure, it’s not as important as a position as the WILL spot that perennial Pro-Bowler Lance Briggs mans. But the Bears don’t need weak links in the defense piling up year after year either.

Last year Hillenmeyer began the year as the starter but eventually was replaced by second year man Nick Roach.

Roach however isn’t built like a SAM backer and better fits the mold of a WILL backer as well. At only 6'1", 234 pounds, Roach doesn’t have the size of the strength to hold up against the RT/TE combination on the strong side shift of the offense.

The same also goes for Jamar Williams, who has been spoken of in high regard as a linebacker who can play all three spots. But if can he play all three successfully is another argument.

Williams is yet another 6'1", 237 pounds, fleet linebacker better suited to make plays in the open field utilizing his speed to cover a lot of ground in the flats.

Then there was rookie backer Joey LaRocque, a special teams demon who might be tall enough at 6'2" to match up well with tight ends. But he’s only 226 pounds, further cementing his standing as a likely special teams player if he stays on the 53-man roster.

So really, is there a former draft pick on the roster who has the size, the build, and the strength to hold up against the strong-side shift on running downs and is able to—if need be—cover a tight end down the field on passing downs?

When looking at the roster the answer clearly is no.

Hillenmeyer himself has not always been a good player, but he’s been good enough and made enough plays in critical situations to keep his job.

But now it appears that he is on the downside of his seven-year NFL career and could be in a position to be replaced.

The only real player that looks like he’s a SAM backer on the roster opposite middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is free agent signee Mike Rivera.

Rivera, as I talked about in previous blog posts, seems like the obvious choice to be in competition to replace Hillenmeyer. Rivera is listed as 6'3", 254 pounds, so he is the linebacker best built to hold up against the run.

But it may be asking a lot of an undrafted free agent signee to make the roster.

So that leaves the Bears in a bit of a pickle as they head to camp.

Clearly there must still be a level of confidence that Hillenmeyer can bounce back and revert to his 2007 season form.

However, if Hillenmeyer again struggles with injuries or just isn’t as productive as he was in 2007, the Bears could be looking for at a SAM backer as a draft option in 2010.