Second in a series
Who’s in: Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee
Where do they fit? Sam Acho, Jared Allen, David Bass, Cornelius Washington, Willie Young
McPhee was the launch point of the Bears’ offseason personnel acquisitions. But he is far from the only significant move coming at outside linebacker, perhaps the single most important spot in the still-forming Bears 3-4 because of its pass-rush role in an NFL tilted toward enabling that style of offense.
Houston’s rehab from a torn ACL suffered at New England last year for the time being frees up reps for others who will be trying to secure a spot in the changing defense. Pending his recovery, Houston is one of the expected eventual starters, back at outside linebacker where he gained some experience while with the Oakland Raiders.
“What’s good about Pernell is his flexibility,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “So you can say, ‘OK, he’s going to play 3-4 outside linebacker,’ but if we’re getting our best pass rushers on the field, he’s flexible enough to do multiple things. Just like Houston is.”
The fits of Houston and McPhee, however, did not stop the Bears from acquiring Acho, an emerging rush threat with the Arizona Cardinals before suffering a broken fibula early in the 2013 season.
With his combination of size and pass-rush ability, McPhee likely will lead the Bears D in snaps this year. But it may come at someone’s expense, and Allen and Young may move from starters in the Bears’ 4-3 of 2014, to situational tweeners in Bears’ 3-4 of 2015.
One notable trend in the OLB acquisitions is the sheer size: Acho is 257 pounds, McPhee 280, and Houston played last year in the 275 range. That translates into a mix of rush ability and strength at the point vs. the run, and none of Allen, Bass, Washington or Young fit that template.
Both Pace and head coach John Fox met with Allen, an Arizona resident, while they were attending the recent NFL owners meetings.
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Pace places a premium at OLB on pass rush, followed (in order) by setting the edge and then dropping in coverage. Allen and Young are likely restricted to situational pass rushing because neither is as much as 260 pounds.
“Physically, [Allen] had a rough year last year,” said Fox, who had hoped a year ago to lure Allen to the Denver Broncos. “In particular for big guys or really any position, your weight, your strength level, all those things physically have a lot to do with how you perform on Sundays.
“I think in his case he got pneumonia, he lost 19, 20 pounds, and in the middle of a marathon that is hard to recover from. That’s an analogy I use for a football season. So, I don’t know if it was his best season.”