Chicago Bears' Season-End Review, Part VII: The Linebackers

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Chicago Bears' Season-End Review, Part VII: The Linebackers
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Chicago’s linebackers had a rough start to the season in 2009 as both Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa went out early (Urlacher for the year and Tinoisamoa for what basically was a few games but in reality it was most of the season and really put a damper on defense for the Bears.) 

Not too many people realized just how important Urlacher was to the Bears defense until he was gone for almost an entire season.

After spending last year on the sidelines, Urlacher came back this season and despite the fact that the has some age on him and spent all of last season on the sidelines, he played very well earning several honors including a spot in the Pro Bowl this season. 

It was nice to see Urlacher back to his old self and being back to his old self helped make the Bear’s defense much better this season.

There will be some decisions that have to be made this season regarding some of the starting options and depth on the team. Both Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach are free agents and you would think that at least one of them will be resigned. 

There is also a situation with Hunter Hillenmeyer.  Hillenmeyer missed almost all of last season with a concussion and the Bears may not be willing to take a risk with him again.

The following is a player by player look at all of the players that the Bears had at the linebacker position in the 2010 season.  This includes a look back at their stats, how they look heading into the offseason and where they stand for 2011.

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Lance Briggs-Briggs ended the 2010 season as a Pro Bowler once again and remained a steady force at the linebacker position for the Bears. 

He played in 15 games with 15 starts (missing the first game against the Seahawks) and had 89 total tackles with 76 solo and 13 assisted.  Briggs also had two sacks, seven passes defended, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

Briggs will continue to be counted on to bring some solid play from his position and should be able to help keep the Bears defense playing strong in 2011.  He’s not going anywhere this offseason and will help the Bears defense try to maintain what it did this past season.

Hunter Hillenmeyer-What happened to Hillenmeyer last season is well known by every single Bears fan after spending just about the entire season on injured reserve with the effects of a concussion.  Hillenmeyer is fully recovered from his concussion but will the Bears keep him around in 2011 or will they look for someone to replace him due to the health concerns that he brings?

The Bears seem to like Hillenmeyer, but if they bring in some additional depth at the outside linebacker position knowing his history with concussions he could be expendable. 

Look for him to get to training camp and unless the Bears bring in some talent at the position during the offseason, make the active roster in 2011.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Brian Iwuh-Iwuh was brought in to help fill a perceived void on special teams (and ended up beating out last year’s special team’s star Tim Shaw thanks to his ability to play linebacker) and contributed often early in the season.

All together, Iwuh played in all 16 games with one start (in place of Briggs when he was injured during the Seattle game).  He had 26 total tackles with 24 solo and two assisted.  He also had one sack and two forced fumbles.

Iwuh wasn’t the special team’s standout that the Bears thought that he would be (give that honor to backup cornerback Corey Graham) but he was effective. 

It was nice to see him come in and help out when Briggs was out but he wouldn’t have been an ideal long term solution for the Bears.

Chicago may choose to keep him around next season depending on how much work that they decide to do at the outside linebacker position. 

If Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa aren’t back (they are free agents this offseason) they may want to keep him around.  Watch his status through training camp as the Bears may keep him around for 2011.

Nick Roach-As mentioned, Roach is going to be a free agent this offseason and his status is really up in the air right now.  With Tinoisamoa also being a free agent it’s hard to imagine that the Bears would let both of them go but if they decide to only keep one would it be Roach?

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Roach lost a chance to start (to Tinoisamoa) after suffering an injury that required a small surgery at the end of training camp.  After that he did see some action in the lineup playing in 15 games with six starts (in place for Tinoisamoa when he was injured).  He had 15 total tackles with ten solo and five assisted to go along with one pass defended and one forced fumble.

With both Roach and Tinoisamoa having injury problems, the Bears may have to settle keeping the guy that is the least likely to get injured often and that guy would be Roach. 

First, the Bears have to sign him to a new deal. 

If they do that, you can expect him to be part of the roster in 2011.

Pisa Tinoisamoa-As previously stated, Tinoisamoa is going to be a free agent this season and the Bears may or may not resign him. 

Over the past two seasons he has been with the team he has suffered knee injuries that have taken him out of several games and the Bears may be hesitant to sign him to another contract.  Still, with Roach also a free agent and that position possibly unsettled, they may choose to bring him back and see what they can get out of him.

In 2010, Tinoisamoa played in 12 games with ten starts and had 40 tackles, 33 solo and seven assisted.  He also had one sack, one pass defended and one forced fumble.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Tinoisamoa is in the lineup he’s quiet but he’s also good and he’s helped keep that position strong when he’s been in the lineup.  He has the speed to cover tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield and is a sure tackler.

Getting past the “hump” of having to sign him will be the first indication of what the Bears plan to do with Tinoisamoa for next season.  If they do re-sign him you can bet that he will be part of their roster in 2011 and could be the starter again opposite Urlacher and Briggs.

Brian Urlacher-You can bet that there were very few people that thought that Urlacher wouldn’t have the kind of season that he had but after a year off (basically) in 2009 he came back with a vengeance this season and had a Pro Bowl season. 

His play had a direct effect on the success of the Bears on defense this season and the team and fans are thankful for it.

Urlacher played in and started in all 16 games and had a team leading 125 total tackles with 96 solo and 29 assisted.  He also had four sacks, ten passes defended with one interception and two forced fumbles.

Not bad for an aging linebacker coming off a serious injury the previous season.

It’s a lock that Urlacher will be on the roster next season and even though it looks like he’s not going to slow down, the Bears do need to start thinking about replacing him and could start doing that in this draft or the next.

Rod Wilson-Wilson, the last linebacker in our look at the Bear’s unit played almost exclusively on special teams last season and unfortunately has a reputation of coming up with penalties (on special teams) at the wrong time.  

He had two holding penalties that wiped out some big returns in critical games but played well enough to make a difference on special teams.

Wilson played in a total of 15 games (he was brought onto the team once Hillenmeyer went on season ending injured reserve) and collected a total of ten tackles with eight solo and two assisted while playing on special teams.

If the Bears decide to keep Hillenmeyer it’s possible that Wilson could be on his way out of Chicago but Wilson’s status could also be dictated by what happens with Tinoisamoa and Roach.  If the Bears don’t sign one or both of them then Wilson could be back.

Depending on what Chicago decides to do with their free agent linebackers, it looks like they should be pretty set at the linebacker position. 

They do need to start thinking about a replacement for Urlacher but if he keeps playing like he did in 2010 they may not have to worry about that for another season or two.

Chicago’s linebacking group is one of the most solid in the NFL at this time.  Barring injury problems it should remain one of the best in the league next season.

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