The 2009 season saw the Bears lose two starting linebackers in the first game of the season.
Both middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa went out for the season (Tinoisamoa returned for a short time in the Atlanta game, but was injured again and spent the rest of the season sitting out), leaving the Bears with two holes in their linebacking corps.
However, the Bears managed to fill these holes with some capable players and keep the linebacking corps together and effective. This proved that the Bears have a lot of depth at the linebacker position and were (and still are) able to overcome problems at the position. Hopefully they won’t have to do that this year, but if there are injuries, they should be able to cover them with the players that they have in reserve.
Returning for another season is middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher is returning from a season-ending wrist injury, and reports say that he is doing well. The Bears need him back in the middle helping line-up the defense and call plays, as well as provide the support that he does in the game.
Although he has aged, he had almost a full season off and should be very well rested for the 2010 season. Will we see one big last “hurrah” out of Urlacher this season? We hope so.
The other linebacker injured for almost the entire season last year, Tinoisamoa, was re-signed and is back and ready to compete for a starting spot at the outside linebacker position (opposite Lance Briggs). We didn’t see enough of him to get a good indication of his talent so it will be curious to see how he does in training camp. If he does as well as he did last year, then he’s a lock to be the starter again this coming season.
Even though he is somewhat undersized, Tinoisamoa brings a lot to the defense. He has the speed to keep up with tight ends and the ability to hit hard when he needs to. Getting a full season out of him should help make the Bears' linebacking group even better.
Another year, another Pro Bowl for outside linebacker Lance Briggs. Briggs had to step things up a bit after Urlacher and Tinoisamoa were lost for the season, and he responded by playing his usual best.
He was injured for a short period of time, but came back to play hard and lead the Bears' defense. With Urlacher coming back, the load that Briggs carried should be lessened, and he should be able to make more plays as well as help rush the passer from time to time.
He could really benefit from a healthy Urlacher and will play even better with him in the lineup.
Nick Roach stepped in to play the middle linebacker spot with Urlacher out last season (at times), and even though his teammates say that it was hard to hear him, he played pretty solid football. With Urlacher coming back, Roach is going to compete with Tinoisamoa and Hunter Hillenmeyer for the outside linebacker spot, and he has just as good a chance as any of the other two guys at starting in that spot.
After being talked about as someone who wasn’t going to make the team at the end of training camp last season, Hillenmeyer was very much needed, as the Bears would find out shortly after their first game of the season began and he contributed a lot this past season. Injuries kept him out a few times and he played through a lot of pain, but his presence really helped the Bears out.
The question now is, will the Bears keep him around for another season? That should be a no-brainer, because as the Bears could really use him for depth and to step in if someone gets hurt, and you can figure him into the competition with Tinoisamoa and Roach for that other outside linebacker spot.
The Bears have brought in some talent to help them add depth and provide competition at the position. One or more of these guys will land on the active roster after training camp is over. Unless the Bears make a trade or pick-up a veteran that has been cut, it looks like these are the guys that the Bears will have to choose from to backup the starters (and other backups) at the linebacker spots.
Kevin Malast has been a part of the team in the past and is a front-runner for sticking with the team as a reserve linebacker after training camp is done. It’s very possible he will backup and play special teams next season, as long as he has a good training camp.
Matt Mayberry, a prospect that the Bears brought in as an undrafted free agent, needs to show the team his value on special teams before he can be considered a part of the team (on the active roster). The Bears use their reserve linebackers as special teams players, and so Mayberry, as well as reserve linebacker Greg Matthews, will have to prove his value there first.
Tim Shaw is more of a special teams player than anything else, but he is a reserve linebacker as well, and could be called upon at some point to play linebacker. Shaw, based purely on his special teams ability, will end up making the final roster for the Bears and provide them with solid play on special teams.
The Bears and their fans hope that they have a full and healthy year from their linebackers in 2010. It was difficult seeing both Urlacher and Tinoisamoa go out so early in the year, but the defense made its adjustments, and considering the level of play the rest of the season, they actually played pretty well.
Having both Urlacher and Tinoisamoa in the lineup should help the Bears out a lot on defense. Not only will it help the secondary, but it will also help the defensive line, knowing that they have reliable players behind them that will make plays.
Another big plus with Urlacher’s return is that he will be able to call plays and line people up in the right spots. The Bears missed that last season.
So, with good health, expect the Bears linebacking group to excel this season and be a part of a much improved defense in 2010.