Akiem Hicks

Bears All-Decade Team: Brian Urlacher, Akiem Hicks lead LBs, DL

Bears All-Decade Team: Brian Urlacher, Akiem Hicks lead LBs, DL

The Chicago Bears wrapped up their 100th season of football in disappointing fashion, but the 2010s provided Bears fans with some fun moments and personalities to cheer for.

In this nine-part series, we'll name our Bears All-Decade Team.

We've already covered edge defenders and the secondary. Next up: Linebackers and defensive linemen.

Linebacker: Brian Urlacher

This is the easiest pick of any Bears All-Decade player. Urlacher's Hall-of-Fame career continued the proud tradition of linebackers in Chicago and vaulted him into rarified air in the city's sports legends.

Urlacher played his entire 13-year career with the Bears which included 180 starts, 1,354 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns. Simply incredible.

His list of league awards and accolades has few peers. He was the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, an eight-time Pro-Bowler and four-time First-Team All-Pro.

Few Bears have left the kind of legacy Urlacher did, and few Bears ever will again.

Linebacker: Lance Briggs

Briggs was the Robin to Urlacher's Batman during his tenure with the Bears. His career is Hall-of-Fame worthy and if it wasn't for playing in Urlacher's shadow, he would likely be viewed in even higher regard than he is.

Briggs started 170 games for Chicago and ended his career with 1,174 tackles, 16 interceptions, 15 sacks, and six defensive touchdowns. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2005.

Next stop: Canton.

Linebacker: Danny Trevathan

Trevathan was one of Bears GM Ryan Pace's first big free-agent acquisitions in 2016 when he signed a four-year, $28 million contract that offseason. He's been a big part of the turnaround in Chicago and a leader on the Bears' defense during some of its darkest seasons.

Trevathan has started 45 games since coming to Chicago and has 327 tackles, six sacks and five interceptions during that span.

His future with the team is in question entering the 2020 offseason, but no matter what the future holds for him, his time as a Bear was a resounding success.

Defensive line: Akiem Hicks

Hicks' emergence as one of the NFL's top defensive linemen has been one of the best storylines to follow for Bears fans since he joined the team in 2016 on a two-year bargain contract.

In the four seasons since, he's become Chicago's most dominant front-seven defender and was ranked 39th in the NFL's Top 100 Players entering the 2019 season. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year.

Hicks has started 53 games for the Bears and has had at least seven or more sacks in each year with the team prior to 2019's injury-shortened campaign. He remains a cornerstone piece in the team's championship aspirations.

Defensive line: Israel Idonije

One of the most underrated Bears of the last decade, Idonije was a model of consistency during his nine seasons in Chicago.

The Bears claimed Idonije off the Browns practice squad in 2003 and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup in 2010. He'd go on to start 47 games between 2010-12 and finished his tenure in Chicago with 28.5 sacks.

Bears Grades: Defense fell short of expectations in 2019

Bears Grades: Defense fell short of expectations in 2019

The Bears were supposed to field a potentially generational defense in 2019. Instead, the unit was an above-average group that led Chicago to an 8-8 record. They finished eighth in the league in yards allowed per game and were fourth in points allowed per game (18.6). 

In an ordinary year with an even ordinary offense to complement this defense, the Bears probably would've been a playoff team. But it would be unfair to say Khalil Mack & Co. were anywhere near as dominant as they were in 2018.

Here's Part 2 of our Season Grades. Check out Part 1 (offense) here.

Defensive Line: B

All things considered, the Bears' defensive line played well in 2019. The heart and soul of the front-four, Akiem Hicks, played just 191 snaps this season because of an elbow injury suffered in Week 5 against the Raiders. He returned for the Packers game in Week 15 but was nowhere near 100%. That said, when Hicks was healthy, he was as dominant as ever.

Eddie Goldman had the kind of season we've come to expect from the fifth-year nose tackle. He was strong and stout in the middle of the Bears' defensive line and allowed Chicago's second-level defenders to run free and make plays. His box score doesn't tell the whole story of how valuable he is to this defense; it never has. He finished 2019 as the Bears' eighth-highest graded defender via Pro Football Focus, but his true value extends beyond the analytics. Chicago's defense would be in big trouble if it lost Goldman for an extended period of time.

Bilal Nichols, Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris all logged between 445 and 544 snaps in 2019 and proved to be solid, even if unspectacular. 

Williams was one of the feel-good stories from 2019. The 29-year-old free-agent-to-be enjoyed a career-year with six sacks and at times seemed unblockable as an interior penetrator. 

“You want to show, especially teams that cut you, that just put you out,” Williams said, “you want to show them that they made a mistake. I think I did that this year. I played some good football and did some good things on the football field.”

Linebackers: C+

The 2019 season began with such high expectations for a linebacker group that featured the likes of Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. But much like the Bears' season as a whole, they underachieved.

It starts with Mack, who's held to a different standard. He finished the season with the highest Pro Football Focus grade on the team, which suggests he had a good year. But he was brought to Chicago to be an impact pass-rusher, and his 8.5 sacks this year didn't cut it. It was his least-productive season since his rookie year in 2014.

This isn't to say Mack was a total disappointment. He's still the present and future of this defense. But if the Bears want to be a Super Bowl contender, Mack has to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He wasn't that in 2019.

What's worse, however, was the lack of sack production from his running-mate. Floyd has been a big letdown since coming to Chicago as the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. He was supposed to be a freakishly athletic pass-rusher, but after four seasons and just 18.5 career sacks, the ship has sailed on that scouting report. He had a career-low three sacks in 2019.

The most bizarre situation of this season was Smith's unexplained deactivation prior to Week 4's Vikings game. His play was already falling below expectations and he didn't start turning the corner until Week 10 against the Lions. Unfortunately, Smith's year ended early because of a torn pec in Week 14. He was trending in the right direction, however, and with a full offseason to make a full recovery, he should be one of the centerpieces of the defense again in 2020.

Trevathan, who's scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason, was playing up to his career-standard prior to his gruesome arm injury in Week 10. It's unlikely he'll be back in 2020, and it's in large part because of the emergence of Nick Kwiatkoski, who shined as a starter once his number was called.

Kwiatkoski is set to hit the open market as well, but he has to be a priority for general manager Ryan Pace. He was the Bears' highest-graded linebacker aside from Mack. He finished 2019 fourth on the team in tackles, which is remarkable considering he didn't play meaningful reps until Week 10. Had he started all season, he would've led the team in that category by a wide margin.

And let's not forget the late-season performance of Kevin Pierre-Louis, who filled in for Smith in Week 14 after he exited with his pec injury. Pierre-Louis finished the last three games as one of the most violent and active Bears defenders. He wasn't perfect and had some lapses in judgment (see his running into the punter penalty in Week 16 against the Chiefs), but he finished 2019 with four strong games and an end-of-year grade of 90.5 from Pro Football Focus. 

Pierre-Louis, like Kwiatkoski and Trevathan, is a free agent this offseason.

Cornerbacks: C+

Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were fine in 2019. They really were. But what they didn't do was create turnovers at the same rate they did in 2018, and that regression was a big part of the Bears' letdown this season. 

Fuller's interception total dropped from seven to three, while Amukamara dipped from three to zero. That's a difference of seven turnovers, which is significant considering the Bears as a team managed just nine interceptions all year.

Amukamara is one of the more likely veterans to be a salary-cap casualty this offseason. The Bears will save $9 million by cutting ties and it's a move that makes sense, even if Amukamara's proven to be a strong presence in Chicago's secondary. He simply wasn't a difference-maker in 2019, and at 30 years old, his best years are likely behind him.

Kevin Tolliver, Jr., who joined the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2018, had a productive second season with the team. He logged 175 snaps and gave Chicago a glimpse at what he could do as a potential starter in 2020. The Bears could do a lot worse than Tolliver, who ended 2019 with 13 tackles and two pass breakups.

Rookie Duke Shelley played just eight snaps on defense in what was an incomplete rookie season for the sixth-rounder.

Safeties: B

Much like the cornerback position, the Bears' safeties were solid in 2019 with the exception of turnovers. Eddie Jackson was especially disappointing in this department. He managed just two interceptions after snagging six in 2018. Jackson had three defensive touchdowns in 2018 but had zero this year. 

Jackson's reputation led to a Pro Bowl nod despite his play probably not warranting it. Consider it a down year for him. His resume has enough high-end production to erase any concerns that he isn't the player Bears fans thought he was entering the season.

One of the best value players on the Bears' defense this year was Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with Chicago in free agency last offseason. He rewarded Pace's decision by having the third-most tackles on defense, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown.

Clinton-Dix was the Bears' second-highest graded defender via PFF this season and will be a priority contract for Pace to get done early in the offseason. Otherwise, they'll be left searching for his replacement much like last year when they signed Clinton-Dix to fill the void left by Adrian Amos.

Jackson and Clinton-Dix were ironmen this season. They played the second and third-most snaps of all Bears' defenders in 2019.

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Bears Inactives: No last-second surprises on the last day of the year

Bears Inactives: No last-second surprises on the last day of the year

The last Inactives list has arrived, and there's not a lot to report: 

Both Rashaad Coward and Bobby Massie being out means the right side of the Bears' offensive line is going to be about as depleted as it's been all year. Get ready for a healthy chunk of Alex Bars, Ted Larsen, and/or Cornelius Lucas. 

With Hicks and Goldman out, Sunday's also a good chance for pending unrestricted free agent Nick Williams to put some last plays on tape before he tests the market. 

A little under 90 minutes until the 4th preseason game the last game of the season kicks off.