CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day and after could have in store. Second in a series.
Bears pre-draft situation
From his arrival in Chicago, general manager Ryan Pace has placed a premium on staffing the 3-4 defensive scheme of coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio with impact linebackers. It began with the signing of rush linebacker Pernell McPhee and carried through the 2016 offseason with the signings of inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, then augmented by a trade up in the 2016 draft for edge rusher Leonard Floyd and the fourth-round pick of Nick Kwiatkoski.
The result has been a steadily upgrading defensive core. But none of the Bears' top five true linebackers (Willie Young's request to be dubbed a defensive end is here honored) was on the field for 16 games last season. McPhee started and finished the season sidelined with injuries (knee, then labrum), Trevathan was lost to knee surgery, Freeman was suspended four games, Floyd lost time to a calf injury and to concussions, and Kwiatkoski missed the preseason and the first two regular-season games with a hamstring pull early in training camp.
Trevathan tore his right patellar tendon against Tennessee on Nov. 27, and his recovery in time for training camp is problematic. Kwiatkoski, who performed well in place of both Freeman and Trevathan, figures prominently in the overall.
A core ostensibly is in place, though the stated operating premise is that pass rushers always will be added if possible. And the organization is expecting a next-level move by Floyd after seven sacks as a rookie.
"Obviously he's naturally going to continue to get stronger, and more durability I think will come with added strength," Pace said of Floryd. "I think he's going to continue to refine his pass-rush technique. Right now that first year is just kinda raw speed and raw talent. I think as he gets better with his pass-rush moves, using his hands and developing counters, I think the sky's the limit, because he's got everything you need physically and he's got the work ethic to learn all that. So I think dialing in some of his pass-rush traits are going to help a lot."
Rush linebacker Lamarr Houston is under contract and was the Bears' sack leader with eight in 2015. But he spent the 2014 and 2016 seasons on injured reserve with knee injuries, has a starting base-plus-workout price of $6 million for 2017 and turns 30 in June, making him a longshot to be on the roster come opening day.
Projected pre-draft starters
OLB: Pernell McPhee
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
ILB: Danny Trevathan/Nick Kwiatkoski
Reserves: Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston, Christian Jones, Willie Young
Bears draft priority: Low/moderate
The Bears will always look to grab a pass-rush threat, and various scenarios could somehow conspire to leave Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, until now the consensus No. 1-overall pick, on the board at No. 3. The Bears have arranged a private get-together with Garrett, cast either as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 linebacker, and also had a private meeting with Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster. Trevathan's injury history — including during his time in Denver — has to be a concern, and Freeman turns 31 on May 1, making a selection of an elite inside linebacker a distinct possibility if the draft unfolds to leave one on the board for them, though not until Days 2 or 3.
Because of teams scheming to keep the Bears in nickel more than half the time, a hybrid edge rusher in the Floyd/McPhee mold will always be a priority.
Keep an eye on ...
Dylan Donahue, OLB/DE, West Georgia. At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, he's an impact mid-round prospect with special-teams potential. He got a post-combine invitation to meet with Fox: "At the formal meetings they don't really tell you a lot because they want you to feel awkward and uncomfortable," Donahue told the Billings (MT) Gazette. "The meeting with the Bears was really cool."
Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. He was sent home from the Combine after a spat with staff but was Butkus Award winner in 2016. He had rotator cuff surgery that has dropped him on some boards, as have some character concerns.
Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M. With 31 sacks over three college seasons, Garrett is a 3-4 outside fit who would factor into rush packages immediately. The Bears would need the Browns and the 49ers to think quarterback at Nos. 1 and 2. Fox grabbed Von Miller at No. 2 in his first draft as the Broncos' head coach in 2011, so he knows what A&M rushers can do. "(Miller) probably has a little bit more skill than me," Garrett said during the Combine. "He's been doing it for a little bit longer. But I feel like I'm a little bit bigger, little bit stronger, and I'll catch up in that regard to skill."
James Onwualu, OLB, Notre Dame. He's a later-round prospect with special-teams capabilities. He had an excellent bench press (24) and vertical (38) at Notre Dame's pro day, but he's not an every-down candidate at 230 pounds.