Here's how Ryan Pace views the Bears' linebacker situation heading into the combine

Here's how Ryan Pace views the Bears' linebacker situation heading into the combine

The Bears have a lot of work to do at inside linebacker. 

That room has quietly become one of the major concerns for Ryan Pace and Co. this offseason, as 2019's top three guys — Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Kevin Pierre-Louis — are all unrestricted free agents. 

"Inside linebacker for us is a position of strength," Ryan Pace said from the combine on Tuesday morning. "I do feel like last year, when we talk about our defense, that we got hit with injuries with both those players. I think that hurt us — with Akiem going down in the middle, too."

Trevathan will be 30 next season, and while the Bears haven't publicly made up their minds one way or the other about his future at Halas Hall, his salary demands and injury history create a situation where it's easy to see the team moving on. The surrounding circumstances are bit different for Kwiatkoski, but the outcome could very well be the same: after filling in admirably for Trevathan, the fifth-year vet rightfully views himself as a starter — which alone may price himself out of negotiations with the somewhat-cap-strapped Bears. 

"He took full advantage for his opportunities when he got them. You tip your hat to him," Pace added. "We talk about drafting and developing players. With him being a fourth-round pick, we’re proud of where he got to.

"Any of those negotiations with all those guys, we’ll keep them in-house. I hope you guys can respect this time of year. It’s a difficult time to talk about a lot of things." 

Fortunately, the Bears know they'll be able to pair whoever they bring (back?) in with Roquan Smith, who, according to Pace, is recovering well from surgery on a torn pectoral muscle. The team expects Smith to be fully healthy when training camp rolls around. 

"This is a fully recoverable thing for Roquan," Pace said. "When he was healthy last year and playing right, you saw the player that we drafted and why we took him so high. Our outlook on him is very optimistic." 

Is Kyle Fuller the Bears' best 1st-round pick since 2010?

Is Kyle Fuller the Bears' best 1st-round pick since 2010?

The 2020 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and unfortunately for Bears fans, it'll mark the second year in a row that Chicago will be without a first-round pick. Then again, that's the price a team must pay to land a generational talent like Khalil Mack.

Still, the draft is more fun when the Bears have a first-rounder. 

But that fun has more often than not quickly turned into disappointment. Chicago's first-round success rate hasn't been very good, especially over the last 10 years.

Here's Chicago's first-round breakdown over the last decade:

2010: NONE
2011: Gabe Carimi (OL, Wisconsin)
2012: Shea McClellin (Edge, Boise State)
2013: Kyle Long (OL, Oregon)
2014: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
2015: Kevin White (WR, Va Tech)
2016: Leonard Floyd (Edge, Georgia)
2017: Mitch Trubisky (QB, UNC)
2018: Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
2019: NONE

First, let's look at the obvious problem: Two of the last 10 drafts resulted in zero first-round picks. Not great. 

Of the remaining eight picks, five are no longer with the team (Carimi, McClellin, Long, White, and Floyd). While Long was a solid starter during his tenure in Chicago, Carimi, McClellin, White, and Floyd were downright busts.

Then there's Trubisky, who might be the most important first-round selection in franchise history. His career is on life support after the Bears traded for Nick Foles this offseason. He's trending in the wrong direction.

Smith, who's flashed elite playmaking upside during his first two seasons in the league, had some bizarre off-field issues in 2019 that impacted his growth as a starter last year. His arrow is still pointing up, but he has to prove he can be relied on for 16 games.

That leaves Fuller, who was recently dubbed the Bears' best first-round pick of the last decade.

Since being drafted 14th overall in 2014, Fuller has been a starter at corner from nearly day one. With the exception of a 2016 season wiped out by a knee injury, Fuller has started all but two games over five years.

The 28-year-old has 18 career interceptions, including seven in 2018 (which tied for the NFL lead). In each of the past two seasons, the former Virginia Tech standout has been named to the Pro Bowl

It's a fair assessment of Fuller's impact, especially when compared to the rest of his first-round brethren. Chicago's failure to hit on first-round picks has been a big reason why they've struggled to sustain success in recent years and will continue to be why they won't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender.

The Bears' first selection in the 2020 NFL draft won't come until the second round, No. 43 overall, but with two picks in the top 50, Pace has a chance to add two impact players to a roster that isn't far away from competing for an NFC North title.

    Kyle Long anxious for 'true' QB competition with Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky

    Kyle Long anxious for 'true' QB competition with Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky

    Former Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long knows Mitchell Trubisky very well. They were teammates for the last three years in Chicago. 

    But even Long is anxious to see how the Bears quarterback will respond after general manger Ryan Pace traded for Nick Foles last month.

    “I've never seen Mitch Trubisky in at true, true, true quarterback competition,” Long told NBC Sports Chicago this week. "And if that's what they're going to brand this thing as, then I hope to see that really happen."

    Foles has the trust of the coaching staff, having played for head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in the past. And for that reason, many people are doubting Trubisky’s chances of actually winning the QB competition.

    “If they're bringing in a guy to take his position from Day 1, so be it, but let's not up and say it, so we're clear,” Long said. “It's like being in a relationship with somebody. You set boundaries, you communicate, and that's how you understand. But if you've got two guys competing, and that's a true competition, I'm anxious to see what Mitch is going to respond like.”

    That seems to be the big question. As Long said, Trubisky has never really been threatened for his job ever since he took it from Mike Glennon in 2017. And no one is really doubting how Foles (who played with Long’s brother, Chris, in Philadelphia) will handle the situation.

    “We all know how Nick will be. He's going to be Nick Foles,” Long said. “(Chris) says he's a great competitor. A winner. Obviously a Super Bowl champion. A really good guy. He likes Nick a lot.”

    And like many fans, Long was happy to see a move at quarterback, even if it meant a competition for his friend and former teammate.

    “Kudos to the Bears for making a move and shutting some people up in Chicago,” he said. 

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