Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Linebacker


Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Linebacker

Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted: 12:14 p.m.

By John Mullin

First in a series

Very few teams have the distinction of Pro Bowl linebackers playing side by side in their defense. The Bears have that in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. What they have at the other linebacker spot, however, is less distinguished or settled going into this years draft.

The Bears

Briggs, Urlacher and Hunter Hillenmeyer gave the Bears a bedrock linebacker corps through much of the decade. But injuries gradually slowed Hillenmeyer until concussions in the 2010 preseason all but ended his career.

Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa combined over the last two seasons to give the Bears solid replacements for Hillenmeyer. But both of them had knee issues and have not settled the position the way Hillenmeyer did.

Brian Iwuh at 6-0, 239 pounds played well in limited opportunities and is an ideal roster fit with his special-teams prowess. Rod Wilson has worked passably as a backup but didnt secure a spot with his opportunities and will be 30.

A complicating element in the overall is that the Bears have major money tied up in Briggs and Urlacher and both are 30-plus. The nature of the cap is that the organization cannot afford to lavish another huge contract on the position group, particularly at the one spot that is frequently a two-down player.

Need: The roster is too thin at linebacker. Roach is a longshot to be back and Tinoisamoa missed four games with injury down the late-season stretch. The position will be addressed but not before the middle rounds of the draft unless a gem falls to the Bears in the second or third.

The 2011 draft

Von Miller from Texas A&M is one of the single highest-graded player in the entire draft and will not last past the first five picks, more likely the first three. The situation after that takes on an interesting dimension, because the proliferation of 3-4 defenses has more teams looking for one type of linebacker, primarily a pass rusherhybrid defensive end. The Bears are set in their 4-3 scheme and looking in an entirely different direction.

The 3-4 teams are helping us with our linebackers, said GM Jerry Angelo. Probably the guys we like are not onhalf the boards in the league, and that will help us. Like in the old days, 3-4 teams could get their pass rushers in the fifth, sixth round, and sometimes in free agency, because nobody was playing that scheme. In part, it's helped us defensively, I think there are more linebackers for us, that we can get later, if we choose to go in that direction, and even in free agency.

From my vantage point, that's probably the most fertile position on the board for us, in the mid to later rounds and free agency. We'll be able to find players to come in here with the traits that we're looking for.

The Best Bets:

(Again leaving out the very obvious elite, in Von Miller since he will have no relevance in the Bears draft.)

1. Martez Wilson, Illinois His Combine raised his stock appreciably and if he somehow lasts until the Bears turn in the second round, this could be a surprise pick as the best-available and possible successor to Urlacher.

2. Bruce Carter, North Carolina Another potentially excellent fit in a 4-3 but an ACL problem cost him the Combine and he comes with health risks. Like Urlacher, a converted safety.

3. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina Has played both outside and inside and may be a better fit at MLB. Overshadowed by some teammates but from a very solid program.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

USA Today

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

When the Bears signed Trey Burton to a four-year contract worth a reported $32 million (with $18 million of it guaranteed), the natural thought was this: So long, Dion Sims. But the Bears are all but certainly going to hang on to the 27-year-old tight end after his $4 million roster bonus became fully guaranteed on Friday, barring a trade. 

“We like Dion Sims, a well-rounded tight end,” general manager Ryan Pace said on Thursday. “We’re excited we got him.”

Cynically — or, perhaps, fairly — Pace’s comments could’ve been interpreted as part of a play to trade Sims, who signed a three-year contract in 2017. The Bears saw Sims as a strong run blocker with pass-catching upside, but still gave themselves an out after one year that would’ve netted $5.666 million in cap savings. 

Sims didn’t show any of that receiving upside last year, though, catching 15 of 29 targets (51 percent) for 180 yards with one touchdown. Crucially, the Bears have the cap space to keep Sims, even with the flurry of signings they’ve announced this week -- and Kyle Fuller's reported four-year, $56 million extension -- and contract extensions looming for Eddie Goldman and possibly Adrian Amos, too. 

So hanging on to Sims means the Bears value his contributions as a run blocker and are willing to shoulder a $6.3 million cap hit for him to primarily be used in that role. The Bears expect Shaheen to be their primary in-line tight end, with Burton and Daniel Brown, who signed a one-year contract Friday, the more pass-catching-oriented “move” guys in Matt Nagy’s offense. But Sims will still have a role as the Bears look to maximize their production from the tight end position. 

“I think we can use all our tight ends,” Pace said. “I think the Super Bowl champions are a recent example of that, of using a lot of tight ends. They’re all valuable weapons. They’re all a little different. I think they all complement each other. It fits together nicely.”

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.

Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.

But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)

So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”

Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.

Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”

Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”

Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:

First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.

The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.

What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.

What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.

The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.

Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).

And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.

“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”