Fourth in a series
Who’s in: Sam Acho, Mason Foster
Where do they fit? Jonathan Bostic. Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones, Shea McClellin
Changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense ostensibly creates more job opportunities for linebackers. What the Bears have done this offseason, however, suggests that the new general manager and coach don’t necessarily view the returning options as what they need.
The Bears’ signing of Sam Acho from the Arizona Cardinals ostensibly added an outside linebacker with pass rushing on his resume. But Acho is 257 pounds and a physical presence as well, and coach John Fox is expected to play his four best linebackers regardless of position, and Acho as well as Pernell McPhee are not likely to be lining up at only one spot.
Which portends real pressure on 2014 starters to find playing time. If Acho, McPhee and Lamarr Houston are ticketed for linebacker roles, and the Bears also signed inside linebacker Mason Foster from Tampa Bay, then…?
The Bears’ Game 16 starting three linebackers now are effectively in a competition for one job opening. Jonathan Bostic, Christian Jones and Shea McClellin will be competing with Foster, a physical inside linebacker, ironically from Lovie Smith’s 4-3 at Tampa Bay.
Foster ended up with the Bears after some conversations with other teams, and he may be coming in on a mission after receiving just a one-year contract from the Bears and nothing better from anyone else.
“[Foster] is a guy who I think I liked coming out [in 2011],” said coach John Fox. “Obviously I’ve evaluated him on his pro tape. But right now, these guys who maybe didn’t get the huge contracts in free agency, my experience is they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got something to prove. And I’ve had a lot of pretty good one-year deals that have had great success.
“So he’ll get a chance to prove that. We’re building some competition at the linebacker position. So I’m looking forward to working with him… I’ve never watched him practice with us or “in our scheme.” But I’m looking forward to watching him compete and seeing what he can do for the Chicago Bears”
Bostic was ticketed for the outside in the former 4-3, while Jones and McClellin already were edge rushers. Jones had two sacks last season, McClellin one, Bostic zero.
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“Sometimes I feel like the ability to play in space is important for a 3-4 outside linebacker,” Pace said. “But if you had a pie chart, it’s actually kind of a small slice. The most important thing is the ability to rush the passer and then set the edge. Yeah, he can drop and play in space, that’s good, but primarily he’s just dropping out and covering the flat.”
Coaches are withholding public comment on exactly where some people will be stationed. And where some start out may not be where they finish.
McClellin will be embarking on his third different job quest in four years and he now needs to impress a third set of coaches in his short career. He was unsuccessful as a hand-on-the-ground end and only marginally more so as an outside linebacker. As far as his eventual position, “We don’t really know,” Fox said. “The biggest success I saw in him when he came out of Boise State was as a 3-4 outside backer.
“It hasn’t gone as well for him as far as position fit. In fairness to him, that’s not to be judgmental on anybody else, but I think the transition is we’re going to start him inside because it’s a harder position to learn as far as run fits and how they set in there. But he’ll be both. So we don’t really have a position per se for him. A linebacker is a linebacker. So he’ll get the opportunity to compete at both. But more than likely, we’ll start him inside.”