Looking at the 2014 Chicago Bears linebackers group, two of the three positions are solidified with a starter and backup. The missing piece is the middle linebacker spot. The middle linebacker position in Chicago is not just any other guy on the defense, it is one of the most prestigious positions in NFL history. The likes of Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus among others have the set the bar incredibly high for Mike linebacker play in the Windy City. Signing D.J. Williams last offseason was a smart move, but his injury led to rookie Jon Bostic taking over the important role. Bostic had his promising moments, but overall, 2013 was a year of learning from mistakes and building for his future.
Bears general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman announced at the Combine that Bostic and former defensive end Shea McClellin will compete for the starting strong-side linebacker position. I fully expect Bostic to win the battle and be a better, more productive and more dependable linebacker in 2014 at the strong-side linebacker spot.
But that still leaves the MLB spot wide open with Williams set to the open market when free agency begins March 11. The best option for Emery and the Bears is to bring back Williams on another one-year deal, and draft Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood. He is a very promising prospect that will require some time to adjust to speed of the NFL, I have him down as a second round grade but he should be available in round three for Chicago. Re-signing Williams will give Smallwood a season to learn and progress as the backup middle linebacker.
Smallwood is the perfect long-term option at inside linebacker for Chicago, and his connection to new Bears defensive line assistant coach Paul Pasqualoni. The coach served as the Connecticut head coach from 2011 to 2013. Smallwood thrived under Pasqualoni and finished third in the entire AAC in tackles with 118 total. Smallwood’s film showed an active tackler with an impressive knack for blitzing the A-gap. That screams “perfect fit for Mel Tucker’s defense.”