Bears-Browns preview: Linebackers have to step it up a notch

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Of the three levels of the defense — line, linebackers, secondary — a team can perhaps get by best with a subpar linebacking corps on the second level. Does that make it an ideal scenario? No. Because a good defense will be solid on all three levels. But the problems the Bears face at this position don’t concern me as much as those on the other two levels.

Still, I want the Bears to be Super Bowl competitive this year, and there are issues that still remain for them at the linebacker position.

Perhaps the most alarming is that perennial Pro Bowler Lance Briggs has looked a step slow this preseason. I’m one who believes that you can’t put too much stock into a player’s preseason performance, citing evidence of Charles Tillman‘s first Pro Bowl year in 2011, when he looked simply awful in the preseason and went on to have a great regular season. But speed and agility are not necessarily something that you can turn on and off at your own whim.

If Briggs can at least be a good player — not even a Pro Bowler — then the Bears will at least have some stability at linebacker. But questions at middle and strong side backer still remain.

D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic are listed as co-starters at middle linebacker, but I believe the job should belong to Williams as long as he is healthy enough to play. He missed most of last year with a torn pectoral muscle, but was coming into his own prior to that injury. With a defense that’s trying to improve drastically from last year, enough to help aide the offense in a pursuit of a championship, the Bears could use Williams’ veteran leadership at the position.

Meanwhile, on the strong side, Shea McClellin is still a newbie. He’s going to have a learning curve while learning the new position on the job, but the question is: where does the curve end and his job performance begin? The Bears can’t afford him making mistakes in crucial situations. I’m all for letting McClellin have a grace period at the position, but if his performance is hampering the rest of the defense in key scenarios, the plug has to be pulled at some point.

The Bears will have some decisions to make on the rest of their depth chart. With Briggs, Williams, Bostic, and McClellin locking down positions, that leaves likely two available slots. My money is on second-year pro Khaseem Greene and undrafted rookie Christian Jones to fill out the roster.

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