Second in a series
For Briggs and Urlacher, one more time?
They will go down as two of the franchises best linebackers of all time. Lance Briggs was voted to his seventh straight Pro Bowl in 2011 and Brian Urlacher was named to his eighth.
For all of the talk about how the Bears defense is aging, more than a few organizations would like to have that kind of aging in their linebacker corps, with one member (Briggs) netting 147 tackles the other (Urlacher) picking up 135. Briggs also tied for fourth in the NFL with nine stuffs (stopping a rusher for negative yards), according to STATS LLC.
But sands of time do run out on even the bests of careers, and one inescapable possibility is that this may well be one of the final years with Briggs and Urlacher together.
Briggs was signed to a one-year extension that has him under contract through 2014, but Urlachers deal only runs through this season, although best guess is the Bears will not let him leave Chicago via free agency just yet.
We all -- not me, but this whole city and the organization and the players here -- we all better hope that that extension happens because he means a whole lot to our success, Briggs said. Hes pivotal to our success.
The Bears have not laid in much of a succession plan over the past several seasons. This training camp will be an opportunity for a couple of candidates to establish themselves with a future in Chicago.
2011 in review
The play and production of Briggs and Urlacher were keys in a generally solid defense that was top-10 at the three-quarter mark of the season before the offense allowed 10 turnovers in the final three games.
Nick Roach took another step toward settling the strong-side linebacker spot with 15 starts and has played in 47 games over the past three seasons. Roach finished sixth in tackles with 61, second-highest of his career, and only Urlacher (10), Israel Idonije (9) and Briggs (8) had more than Roachs six tackles for loss.
The Bears went into the season thin at linebacker overall and were fortunate that Briggs, Roach and Urlacher missed no games due to injury, the first time for that since Roach joined the Bears in 2007.
What depth they did have at the position was visible primarily on special teams, where undrafted free agents Dom DeCicco, Patrick Trahan, Jabara Williams and veteran Brian Iwuh contributed. Iwuh was waived injured during the season and DeCicco served as Urlachers understudy throughout the year.
2012 Training Camp What to Watch
Depth chart WLB Lance BriggsGeno HayesJabara Williams MLB Brian UrlacherDom DeCicco SLB Nick RoachPatrick TrahanBlake Costanzo
It's a position without significant intrigue on the depth chart.
The signing of free agent Geno Hayes to a one-year deal was a quiet but significant move. Hayes was a starting weakside linebacker after being drafted in the 2008 sixth round by Tampa Bay.
Hayes is listed at 226, less than the stereotypical strongside linebacker, but the Bears look for speed over size in their linebackers, and Hayes could supply starter-grade depth at both outside spots and possibly compete with Roach, also in the final year of his contract.
Costanzo was signed for two years, primarily for his strong play on special teams. He had 12 tackles in 16 games last season with San Francisco and brings size (6-1, 235) potentially on the strong side as well.