We start on the inside.
The Bears had five inside linebackers this season but only three are worthy of discussion. LaRoy Reynolds & Jonathan Anderson are the type of bottom-roster boys an organization needs but there’s also about 125 players like them circulating across the league. Whether they return or not in 2016 won’t make the teapot whistle.
Three questions about the others.
How Much Do the Coaches Really Like Shea McClellin?
Shea is a smart player and the coaches went out of their way throughout 2015 to applaud his impact on the defense. He also, once again, struggled to remain healthy for any substantial period of time and his level of play dropped precipitously once returning to the field.
Here’s how I’d summarize McClellin. He is constantly in position to make plays but rarely makes them. Is that a lack of physical ability? Maybe. Is that a lack of instincts? Definitely. Were his struggles this season more the result of a change to ANOTHER new position? Possibly.
Unlike many who’d like to see the Bears cut the Shea line, I’d like to see him return and continue to develop at middle linebacker. He won’t be expensive or require a lengthy deal so why not? At worst he’s a third linebacker off the bench who can also call signals.
How Much Stake Do the Coaches Put Into John Timu’s Finish?
Adrian Peterson had 18 rushes for 63 yards. Doug Martin had 17 carries for 49 yards. Ameer Abdullah had a more respectable 10 carries for 44 yards. This was a poor rush defense all season long that turned into a solid unit once Timu ascended into the starting lineup. Does this mean the Bears should move forward with Timu cemented in the middle? Of course not. But barring a big splurge in free agency, Timu should come to Bourbonnais with confidence.
Is Christian Jones Really That Bad?
So I’m sitting in a nice seat at Soldier Field for the finale. And, annoying though it may be to my friends, I like to point out mismatches when I see them before the snap. In the fourth quarter, on a second down I believe, the Lions put Theo Riddick in motion. Christian Jones followed him outside. I turn to my buddy Brian and say, “Jones on Riddick. Not good.” Stafford sees it. Snap. No hesitation. Throws to Riddick. A dozen yards. Jones never had a chance.
This proved to me two things. (1) Jones just isn’t good enough to cover backs at this level and (2) the Lions knew that from looking at film. That play was designed by Jim Bob Cooter to isolate Jones on a back and exploit the mismatch. Jones isn’t good enough to start in this league.
Verdict: Defensive line lacks talent but middle linebacker may be the team’s biggest positional need this offseason. But if you’re taking one with the eleventh pick, he better be special.
We move to the outside.
In two sentences…
Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are all valuable playmakers and should be part of this team in 2016. Sam Acho is a middle of the road player whose highest value this season came on specials.
The Bears recorded only thirty-five sacks this year and their lack of consistent pressure left the secondary exposed. (Both the low interception total and high opposing pass rating can be attributed to this lack of pressure.) In the type of defense Fox and Fangio run, outside linebacker is the position where they should have their most explosive players. McPhee is one. Bears desperately need to add another.