BOURBONNAIS – No group on the Bears has a more curious dynamic than the linebackers after a major facelift in the offseason.
Future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher retired. Nick Roach, who started almost every game in three of the past four seasons, signed with the Raiders.
Phil Emery decided to double-down in replacing the pair, signing veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson, then drafting Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
Special-teams ace Blake Costanzo returns, but this group has a completely different look, including Lance Briggs, who is taking Urlacher’s role as the playcaller.
One returning starter, two veterans on one-year deals and two draft picks. Four newcomers who all figure to factor into this year’s team help make up the Bears’ linebacker room.
“I think it’s a good mix,” said Anderson, who started every game he played for the Panthers but one over the past three seasons. "You’ve got a lot of older guys that are veterans that have been around for a while. You’ve got a good mix of young guys that are really good players. I think it’s going to work out well."
While Anderson and Williams will try to prove themselves on one-year deals, they are also charged with using their vast experience to help Bostic and Greene, the futures at the position. The teaching goes both ways, though, as Williams explained.
“We’re teaching them things, but at the same time we’re learning things from them because it’s a constant change in the sport,” he said.
Briggs, the seven-time Pro Bowler, has missed only four games in his 10 seasons with the Bears. He has a new role on the field, and told reporters he hasn’t called plays since college and has had to be more vocal. With Urlacher gone, Briggs is not only the playcaller, he is the clear-cut leader in the linebackers room.
“I think Briggs has done a good job as the leader in there embracing everybody,” said linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, who is making his debut as an NFL assistant this season and is watching his veteran linebackers help the youngsters.
“Certainly on the field you see it. They’ll grab a guy and pull him to the side after a play and give him a coaching point,” he said. “It’s great to see the veterans help those young guys out. That’s going to make us better.”
Greene, a fourth-round pick and back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, has enjoyed working with and learning from the three veterans.
“The room is great. It’s a bunch of guys who care about the big picture, and that’s winning and helping each other. Guys aren’t selfish, guys aren’t me-me-me guys,” he said. “We all try to give feedback in to help one another out. The camaraderie and chemistry that has developed, it’s nice to have that in our room.”
For defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the linebacker room is as new to the team as he is, coming from Jacksonville but keeping generally the same defense that was so successful under Lovie Smith. Tucker enthusiastically described the group.
“I tell you what, it’s competitive in that room, but they do work with each other and they’re a fun group to be around," he said. "A loose group, but they take tremendous pride in their ability to play the game and so as a coach, when you walk in a room like that you have to be on top of it.
“We go into meetings at one level and we come out at a higher level, and that’s because of those guys.”