Bears NFL Draft preview: Linebacker core set, but edge rushers always in demand

Bears NFL Draft preview: Linebacker core set, but edge rushers always in demand

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day and after could have in store. Second in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

From his arrival in Chicago, general manager Ryan Pace has placed a premium on staffing the 3-4 defensive scheme of coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio with impact linebackers. It began with the signing of rush linebacker Pernell McPhee and carried through the 2016 offseason with the signings of inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, then augmented by a trade up in the 2016 draft for edge rusher Leonard Floyd and the fourth-round pick of Nick Kwiatkoski.

The result has been a steadily upgrading defensive core. But none of the Bears' top five true linebackers (Willie Young's request to be dubbed a defensive end is here honored) was on the field for 16 games last season. McPhee started and finished the season sidelined with injuries (knee, then labrum), Trevathan was lost to knee surgery, Freeman was suspended four games, Floyd lost time to a calf injury and to concussions, and Kwiatkoski missed the preseason and the first two regular-season games with a hamstring pull early in training camp.

Trevathan tore his right patellar tendon against Tennessee on Nov. 27, and his recovery in time for training camp is problematic. Kwiatkoski, who performed well in place of both Freeman and Trevathan, figures prominently in the overall.

A core ostensibly is in place, though the stated operating premise is that pass rushers always will be added if possible. And the organization is expecting a next-level move by Floyd after seven sacks as a rookie.

"Obviously he's naturally going to continue to get stronger, and more durability I think will come with added strength," Pace said of Floryd. "I think he's going to continue to refine his pass-rush technique. Right now that first year is just kinda raw speed and raw talent. I think as he gets better with his pass-rush moves, using his hands and developing counters, I think the sky's the limit, because he's got everything you need physically and he's got the work ethic to learn all that. So I think dialing in some of his pass-rush traits are going to help a lot."

Rush linebacker Lamarr Houston is under contract and was the Bears' sack leader with eight in 2015. But he spent the 2014 and 2016 seasons on injured reserve with knee injuries, has a starting base-plus-workout price of $6 million for 2017 and turns 30 in June, making him a longshot to be on the roster come opening day.

Projected pre-draft starters

OLB: Pernell McPhee
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
ILB: Danny Trevathan/Nick Kwiatkoski

Reserves: Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston, Christian Jones, Willie Young

Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

The Bears will always look to grab a pass-rush threat, and various scenarios could somehow conspire to leave Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, until now the consensus No. 1-overall pick, on the board at No. 3. The Bears have arranged a private get-together with Garrett, cast either as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 linebacker, and also had a private meeting with Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster. Trevathan's injury history — including during his time in Denver — has to be a concern, and Freeman turns 31 on May 1, making a selection of an elite inside linebacker a distinct possibility if the draft unfolds to leave one on the board for them, though not until Days 2 or 3.

Because of teams scheming to keep the Bears in nickel more than half the time, a hybrid edge rusher in the Floyd/McPhee mold will always be a priority.

Keep an eye on ...

Dylan Donahue, OLB/DE, West Georgia. At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, he's an impact mid-round prospect with special-teams potential. He got a post-combine invitation to meet with Fox: "At the formal meetings they don't really tell you a lot because they want you to feel awkward and uncomfortable," Donahue told the Billings (MT) Gazette. "The meeting with the Bears was really cool."

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. He was sent home from the Combine after a spat with staff but was Butkus Award winner in 2016. He had rotator cuff surgery that has dropped him on some boards, as have some character concerns.

Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M. With 31 sacks over three college seasons, Garrett is a 3-4 outside fit who would factor into rush packages immediately. The Bears would need the Browns and the 49ers to think quarterback at Nos. 1 and 2. Fox grabbed Von Miller at No. 2 in his first draft as the Broncos' head coach in 2011, so he knows what A&M rushers can do. "(Miller) probably has a little bit more skill than me," Garrett said during the Combine. "He's been doing it for a little bit longer. But I feel like I'm a little bit bigger, little bit stronger, and I'll catch up in that regard to skill."

James Onwualu, OLB, Notre Dame. He's a later-round prospect with special-teams capabilities. He had an excellent bench press (24) and vertical (38) at Notre Dame's pro day, but he's not an every-down candidate at 230 pounds.

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

mitchtrubisky.png
USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

On Ep. 56 of our BearsTalk Podcast, Chris and JJ discuss Mitch Trubisky’s contract, question marks about the final 53, go over the Vikings off-season with Dawn Mitchell from Fox-9 Minneapolis, and go “Off the Grid” on  JJ’s recent engagement.

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

Mitch Trubisky said all along he wasn't worried about signing a contract and that he would have something completed before training camp. On Wednesday, the No. 2 overall pick officially stuck to his word. 

The Bears announced Wednesday -- the day Bears rookies report to Halas Hall -- that Trubisky signed a contract. Trubisky had to be signed to a contract to participate in training camp, which begins next week in Bourbonnais. 

"That's not really for me to worry about," Trubisky said in early June. "I'm going to be out here at practice everyday. My agent and the Bears organization is going to handle that. But I'm not really sure how that stuff works. I'm here to play football, I'm not worried about contracts."

A Trubisky holdout was always unlikely given both sides' desire to get the North Carolina alum into training camp from Day 1. With his contract signed, Trubisky will have an opportunity to develop in the month and a half separating the start of training camp from the Bears' season opener Sept. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Trubisky wasn't the last first-round quarterback to sign, too. Patrick Mahomes, the 10th overall pick, has yet to sign with Kansas City. And Mahomes is one of six first-round picks who have yet to sign along with Solomon Thomas (No. 3, San Francisco), Corey Davis (No. 5, Tennessee), Jamal Adams (No. 6, New York Jets), Gareon Conley (No. 24, Oakland) and Jabril Peppers (No. 25, Cleveland).