An offseason that started with ominous gaps looming at linebacker was marked by yet another move at the position, with the Bears selecting Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene with their pick in the fourth round, 117th overall.
That follows drafting Florida linebacker Jon Bostic in the second round and signings, to one-year deals, of veterans D.J. Williams (Mar. 22) and James Anderson (Mar. 14).
Now, what was a perilously thin position group is suddenly perhaps the deepest on the defense, with some position battles to watch closely through training camp starting in July. Greene is unlikely to supplant Lance Briggs this season, but the future is promised to no one, even seven-time Pro Bowl linebackers (Briggs) or eight-timers (Brian Urlacher).
Greene, who made a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall, was the 2012 Big East defensive player of the year. Like Bostic, Greene was a four-year college player, starting all 38 Rutgers games over his last three years.
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He clearly left his visit with a sense of linebacker history.
If you want to make your mark as a linebacker, “I don’t see a better place to be in,” Greene said. “It’s definitely ‘Linebacker U.’”
Whereas Bostic is projected as a middle linebacker, Greene achieved his best results as a weak-side linebacker. After starting 12 games at free safety in 2010, he moved to “Will” linebacker in 2011 and recorded 141 tackles, 15 for loss that season and 136 and 12.5 for loss in 2012.
He also developed a pass rush, with 3.5 sacks in 2011 and six in 2012, plus 30 quarterback pressures over the two seasons. Greene also intercepted two passes and broke up six others last year.
“The most important thing [playing safety] does is teach me the value of coverages,” Greene said. “Once I moved to linebacker it was easy for me…to anticipate what those [running backs and receivers] were going to do.”
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The Bears have not fared especially well with recent linebacker picks after the third round, which is where Briggs was found in 2003. Jamar Williams was a fourth-round pick in 2006 but Briggs was in his prime and Williams never moved above backup and special teams. Michael Okwo (third round, 2007) did not last through training camp.
What the Bears hope now is that Greene turns into the gems found in the 1999 draft, which produced starters Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman in the fourth round.
“I’m not sure [how fast he could make an impression],” Greene said. “I’m coming into a great situation.”