Bears

Bears clearly thinking 'outside' the box at linebacker

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Bears clearly thinking 'outside' the box at linebacker

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.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears' lineup of 'bubble' players growing with each signing]

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.”

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

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Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

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Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

If Mitchell Trubisky has the kind of break out year in his second season under Matt Nagy that Bears fans are hoping for, he should have no problem cashing an OVER 26.5 passing TDs ticket for bettors who want to back him.

Per Bet Chicago, Caesars is rolling out division props and they set Trubisky’s touchdown pass total for 2019 at 26.5 and his pass yard total at 3,744.5.

While both those marks would be career highs for Trubisky, this number will surely be seen as a slight by the hometown fans and continue to add to the polarizing nature of the quarterback formerly known as the Pretty Boy Assassin.

In Chicago, and if you’re team Mitch, this number is ridiculously low and you’re probably already pounding the over.

Outside of Chicago, and with some analytical support, there’s a lot of doubt about Trubisky’s future as a viable option as an NFL starter, so I’d guess the Pro Football Focus crowd is probably gonna take the under.

We rolled out some props of our own on the Under Center podcast last week including:

Will Mitch Trubisky pass for 10 or more touchdowns than Craig Kimbrel has saves? (Including playoffs for both)

26.5 regular season passing touchdowns probably gives Kimbrel the edge, but it’s right in range. 

And that Trubisky – Kimbrel prop prompted this bold response from our own Bears insider JJ Stankevitz:

I don’t think I’m in the 40 club with my guy JJ, but the OVER certainly feels like the move here. At least it better be if the Bears are gonna make any sort of NFC North title defense.