Many a fan were expressing doomsday scenario almost regularly about the aging problem at linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Has that changed? Maybe not to everybody just yet but it’s clear that within a calendar year the situation looks considerably less dire than it did before.
Phil Emery Moves Took Time To Ripen
Prior to the 2013 off-season, things couldn’t have looked much worse. Brian Urlacher had suffered his second-straight season-ending leg injury and was forced to retire after he and the Bears reached a contract impasse. Reliable co-starter Nick Roach left for Oakland and Lance Briggs was pushing deeper into his 30s. Phil Emery was forced to sign veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson to cover the losses while also addressing the position twice in the NFL draft, taking Jon Bostic in the 2nd round and Khaseem Greene in the 4th.
Things didn’t go well that year. Briggs and Williams were both hurt for most of the season and Anderson, while a reliable tackler didn’t have the playmaking ability needed at the position. Meanwhile Bostic and Greene were often forced into the lineup and they looked like the rookie they were, in over their heads and out of position too many times.
Khaseem Greene and Christian Jones Offer Glimpses Of Potential
As NFL enthusiasts often like to say, “What a difference a year makes.” Things have changed drastically from those dark times a year ago. Suddenly the Chicago Bears went from having no credible young linebackers to having several. Bostic has used his experience from last year to improve considerably, logging time at both middle and strong side linebacker. Prior to being sidelined by a back injury, he ranked second on the team with 28 tackles including two deflected passes. Pro Football Focus has him with a grade of +1.6 in five games.
The bigger surprises thought came from the deeper reserves. Expectations for Greene, a former safety-turned-linebacker out of Rutgers were tapered down after seeing him struggle on the field. Apparently those judgments were premature. His first start in relief of the injured Briggs proved highly productive. He led the team with eight tackles in Atlanta and flashed much of what draft experts saw in him a year ago including an ability to fire into the backfield and blow up running plays.
The other surprising success story was Christian Jones. An undrafted free agent out of Florida State, he was widely known as a red flag case after failing a drug test during the scouting combine. Before that though he was known as a supremely athletic player with loads of promise given his versatility. That has proven true in back-to-back games in Carolina and Atlanta where he showcased an ability to not only rush the passer but also play coverage.
The #Bears with Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones and Darryl Sharpton at LB have held third-highest scoring team to 13 points on the road.
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) October 12, 2014
The Chicago Bears may not have superstars in their midst but one things has become clear. Depth and youth are no longer a concern.
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