Bears training camp capsules: Linebackers


Bears training camp capsules: Linebackers

Second in a series

For Briggs and Urlacher, one more time?

They will go down as two of the franchises best linebackers of all time. Lance Briggs was voted to his seventh straight Pro Bowl in 2011 and Brian Urlacher was named to his eighth.

For all of the talk about how the Bears defense is aging, more than a few organizations would like to have that kind of aging in their linebacker corps, with one member (Briggs) netting 147 tackles the other (Urlacher) picking up 135. Briggs also tied for fourth in the NFL with nine stuffs (stopping a rusher for negative yards), according to STATS LLC.

But sands of time do run out on even the bests of careers, and one inescapable possibility is that this may well be one of the final years with Briggs and Urlacher together.

Briggs was signed to a one-year extension that has him under contract through 2014, but Urlachers deal only runs through this season, although best guess is the Bears will not let him leave Chicago via free agency just yet.

We all -- not me, but this whole city and the organization and the players here -- we all better hope that that extension happens because he means a whole lot to our success, Briggs said. Hes pivotal to our success.

The Bears have not laid in much of a succession plan over the past several seasons. This training camp will be an opportunity for a couple of candidates to establish themselves with a future in Chicago.

2011 in review

The play and production of Briggs and Urlacher were keys in a generally solid defense that was top-10 at the three-quarter mark of the season before the offense allowed 10 turnovers in the final three games.

Nick Roach took another step toward settling the strong-side linebacker spot with 15 starts and has played in 47 games over the past three seasons. Roach finished sixth in tackles with 61, second-highest of his career, and only Urlacher (10), Israel Idonije (9) and Briggs (8) had more than Roachs six tackles for loss.

The Bears went into the season thin at linebacker overall and were fortunate that Briggs, Roach and Urlacher missed no games due to injury, the first time for that since Roach joined the Bears in 2007.

What depth they did have at the position was visible primarily on special teams, where undrafted free agents Dom DeCicco, Patrick Trahan, Jabara Williams and veteran Brian Iwuh contributed. Iwuh was waived injured during the season and DeCicco served as Urlachers understudy throughout the year.

2012 Training Camp What to Watch

Depth chart WLB Lance BriggsGeno HayesJabara Williams MLB Brian UrlacherDom DeCicco SLB Nick RoachPatrick TrahanBlake Costanzo

It's a position without significant intrigue on the depth chart.

The signing of free agent Geno Hayes to a one-year deal was a quiet but significant move. Hayes was a starting weakside linebacker after being drafted in the 2008 sixth round by Tampa Bay.

Hayes is listed at 226, less than the stereotypical strongside linebacker, but the Bears look for speed over size in their linebackers, and Hayes could supply starter-grade depth at both outside spots and possibly compete with Roach, also in the final year of his contract.

Costanzo was signed for two years, primarily for his strong play on special teams. He had 12 tackles in 16 games last season with San Francisco and brings size (6-1, 235) potentially on the strong side as well.

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context


Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:


On the Bears’ season as a whole:


“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”


On Mitch Trubisky:


“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”


On Tarik Cohen’s usage:


“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.


“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”


On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:


“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”


On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:


“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.


“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”


On Matt Nagy:


“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.


“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.


“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”


While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:


“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”


One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.


The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.


But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: