Chicago Bears training camp preview: The linebackers

Chicago Bears - Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears - Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports /

The linebacker position has long been a cornerstone of the Chicago Bears‘ identity. The franchise has been blessed with some of the most formidable linebackers in NFL history.

The inside linebacker positions are manned by two proven performers who anchor the heart of the Bears’ defense. General manager Ryan Poles made a controversial move last year by trading super linebacker Roquan Smith. Smith was at the end of his rookie contract and he wanted to be the highest-paid linebacker in the league.

Despite Smith’s obvious talent, Poles understood that in order to have a proper rebuild he could not spend the $100 million that Smith demanded. Just before the trade deadline, Poles shipped Smith to the Baltimore Ravens for two draft picks.

The move drew the ire of the fans, many of whom said this was another case of the Chicago Bears not wanting to pay for their talent. They said the Bears would rather pay for second-level talent.

Well, those who made that claim were proven wrong by Poles. He showed that he had a vision and was going to do everything he could to stick to it. Yes, the 2022 season was horrible. It was a necessary evil to fulfill the mission of building a consistent contender.

As we gear up for the 2023 NFL season, let’s take a look at the Chicago Bears’ current linebackers unit, a group brimming with talent, experience, and determination.

Once the new league year began and teams signed free agents, we got an idea of what Poles wanted to do. He signed T.J. Edwards. He was certainly an upgrade from what the defense had last season.

Poles was not finished, however. He pulled off a coup, signing Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds was a big reason for the Buffalo Bills’ success on defense. Many experts predicted he’d go to a contender but he preferred to come to Chicago and help return the defense to its glory days.

Poles also used the draft picks to solidify the defense. He used the second-round pick from the Ravens to strengthen the defensive line by selecting Gervon Dexter. With the fifth-round pick, he selected another linebacker, Noah Sewell.

Edmunds will be the middle linebacker. Last season, he had the best year of his career. He was rated as the top linebacker in the league. He is a great tackler, having only missed one tackle last season. When the ball carrier came up against him, he usually went down. Additionally, he allowed a career-low completion percentage and the lowest quarterback rating when targeting him.  He is a seasoned veteran, playing in the league for five years now. Despite that, he is still just 25 years old. Known for his quickness, football intelligence, and powerful tackling, he’s a leader both on and off the field. His skill set allows him to excel in both run defense and pass coverage.

When trying to find a leader on the offense, Poles wanted to have a player who epitomized head coach Matt Eberflus’ HITS principle. That fits Edmunds perfectly. He has a high motor, is very intelligent, helps cause turnovers, and plays smart football. He is exactly who the Bears need to help lead the defense.

At the weakside linebacker, or Will, is Edwards. He was also ranked in the top ten of linebackers. He helped lead the vaulted Philadelphia Eagles’ defense. That unit ranked fourth in total yards and fifth in turnovers. Edwards recorded 159 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven pass breakups. He’s shown remarkable growth in his first four seasons, going from undrafted rookie to a dependable leader. Demonstrating excellent instincts, agility, and a nose for the ball, he will be an asset on defense. Also, his ability to shed blocks and disrupt plays in the backfield has turned him into a major force.

At the strongside or Sam spot, the Bears have Jack Sanborn. Sanborn started his career similar to Edwards. He, like Edwards, was an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin. He worked hard to earn a spot on the roster. He burst out and was constantly around the ball. Not only did he earn a spot he also ended up starting after the Smith trade. He was impressive as a starter, racking up tackle after tackle. However, an ankle injury derailed his season.

Sanborn is healthy again and ready to pick up where he left off. He has quickness and agility, which allow him to cover a lot of ground and keep pace with tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

Depth is a critical factor for any linebacking corps, and the Bears have a talented pool of reserves ready to step in when needed. As mentioned earlier, Sewell is the rookie. He has the ability to eventually become the starter. In fact, he could battle Sanborn for the starting Sam spot. As we’ve already seen, this coaching staff is willing to reward rookies if they show they could be ready to start right away.

The Bears also have Dylan Cole. Cole is a six-year veteran who provides great depth. He is a dependable player who also has some starting experience. Micah Baskerville and Sterling Weatherford will battle it out for the final spot. These players have a range of skills that can be utilized in different defensive packages and special teams. They are also key contributors in practices, pushing the starters and helping the entire group improve.

Going back to Poles’ plan, instead of paying Smith $100 million he used that money to overhaul the entire unit. He spent $72 million for Edmunds, $19.5 million for Edwards, and $1.2 million for Cole. Additionally, Sewell’s contract is worth $4.2 million. That means Poles spent $96.9 million on four players to overhaul an entire unit that Pro Football Focus ranks as the second-best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Ravens got their one linebacker for $100 million.

Poles is unlike any of the previous Chicago Bears general managers in recent history.

All these factors add up to make the Bears’ linebackers unit one of the most promising in the NFL heading into the 2023 season. They’ve got a strong blend of experienced veterans and youthful talent, all under the guidance of a skilled coaching staff. If they can stay healthy and continue to develop as a unit, the sky’s the limit for this group.

Next. Three reasons why the Bills could regress in 2023. dark

As the 2023 season looms, the Chicago Bears’ linebackers are ready to roar. So, to all the opposing offenses out there, be warned: these Bears are ready to hunt. Get ready for some exciting, hard-hitting football, Bears fans. The linebacker unit is primed and ready to make some noise on the field.