Coaches typically adhere to dictums that the best five offensive linemen will start, the best four defensive linemen will start and so on, often with only marginal allowances for assigned positions. With that in mind, how the Bears approach their linebacker situation this week and into Thursday’s game with Jacksonville becomes of added interest even with the organization’s statement that different starting combinations would be explored all through preseason.
Specifically, a question after Friday night is whether Shea McClellin remains the starter at strong-side linebacker, and whether he is tabbed as one of the three best linebackers. That is not a given.
In order to get him sufficient snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles and their nickel orientation with two pass-catching tight ends, D.J. Williams not only started at middle linebacker, but also was paired with Lance Briggs in the nickel package. That had not happened through the offseason and training camp.
“I’ve played nickel my whole career so it was nothing new for me,” Williams said. “I do feel I’m one of the three best linebackers on this team and that’s what this time is all about, proving that. I think it’ll all work itself out.”
It will, but in what form? Williams’ ability against the run is established, and the defense performed well with him in against the Philadelphia with the Eagles throwing on nine of 13 first-quarter plays.
That could bring the issue down to whether McClellin or Jonathan Bostic is the better option at strong-side linebacker. The Bears envision Bostic as Briggs’ eventual successor, and he has spent less time at SLB than in the middle.
But McClellin did not play well against Philadelphia by his own assessment, with a couple of missed tackles and a coverage miss.
If the Bears hold to playing the best group, and Williams is not a fit at strong-side linebacker, by his own description, a threesome of Briggs, Williams and Bostic may not be far off.
Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy opened the game at free and strong safety, respectively. Brock Vereen and Adrian Wilson were the No. 2 tandem. Whether that depth-charting holds is still an open question.
Mundy intercepted quarterback Nick Foles on Philadelphia’s play when the defensive front delivered front-four pressure, which it did repeatedly throughout, and added a pass defensed.
Wilson, in his first action after nearly a year off with a foot problem, closed to break up a pass and also delivered a highlight hit, sending Eagles rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews airborne at the end of a short gain. Wilson was credited with 3 tackles overall.
“I felt OK,” said Wilson, who played the entire second quarter and came out to start the third. Significantly, “I felt better in the second than I did in the second, just seeing formations, getting lined up. It was good to get my feet wet again.”
Vereen showed excellent closing speed and run support as he finished with 5 tackles.