October 21, 2021


Hub Arkush’s 2021 Bears positional previews: Inside linebackers

Throughout the summer we will be running a 12-part series grading each Bears position group on a standard A-F scale, including pluses and minuses based on a bell curve comparing all 32 NFL teams.

One of the hottest trends in the NFL over the past few seasons is a pair of undersized, athletic, speedy inside linebackers in 3-4 defenses that make plays all over the field, and the Bears have one of the best duos going.

After their Super Bowl win, the Bucs’ Devin White and Lavonte David became the poster boys for this newish phenomena, and many believe the Bears’ Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan are just as good.

Should Eddie Goldman return at nose tackle and Akiem Hicks have a healthy productive season in front of Smith and Trevathan, there is every reason to believe the pair will compete for the best inside duo in the NFL this year.

ROQUAN SMITH

Smith was voted Second-Team All-Pro last season, and the talk of this offseason has been he has at least one more significant gear he can hit. He is a tackling machine, excellent in coverage on running backs and tight ends, and with 11 sacks in his first three seasons on a team that blitzes as rarely as any in the league, he is one of the best pass rushers from the inside linebacker spot. The occasional mental error has been all that’s kept him from near perfection. Grade: A-

DANNY TREVATHAN

There was some concern Trevathan, at 31, might be done after he missed the second half of 2019 with a gruesome elbow injury and a slow start last season. But he started coming around in Weeks 5, 6 and 7, and by the second half of the season he was back to being one of the most active playmaking inside backers in the league. His 113 tackles were the most he’s had since 129 in his second season in 2013. At 6-foot, 237 pounds, he and Smith are almost clones. The only concern is Trevathan’s injury history can’t be ignored, as it’s allowed him to play 16 games in only four of his nine seasons. Grade: B+

CHRISTIAN JONES

Jones may quietly be one of the Bears; most important free agent acquisitions of the offseason. A quality starter for the Bears from 2014-17, he provides excellent veteran depth at a position that had none last year. He is capable of starting and being productive over a period of time should Trevathan or Smith go down. At 6-3, 250, he is much bigger than Trevathan and Smith and nowhere near as fast, but he could be a nice complement to either when on the field. Grade: B-

JOSH WOODS

Woods is a converted safety the Bears signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. He is similar in size to Smith and Trevathan and runs just as well. Woods is an important special teams contributor, which will be critical this year with the loss of Cordarrelle Patterson and Sherrick McManis, but he hasn’t logged enough time yet on defense to know how dependable he might be if called on to play significant minutes. Grade: C+

JOEL IYIEGBUNIWE

“Iggy,” as his teammates know him, was the Bears’ fourth-round pick in 2018 and at 6-1, 232 is another Smith/Trevathan clone, but frankly he’s shown little in his first three seasons with the team and may have to make himself invaluable on special teams to lock up a spot on the final roster. Grade: C

AUSTIN CALITRO

Calitro spent 2018 with the Seahawks, 2019 with the Jaguars and last season with the Broncos. He played in 16, 13 and 13 games, respectively, including five starts with the Seahawks and four more with the Jaguars, so there is something here, but why four different teams in four seasons? Grade: C+


This is really all about Smith, Trevathan and Jones in a three-man rotation, but with Smith and Trevathan paired about 85% of the time. They are productive under any circumstances, but let’s see how special they can be with Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Hicks and Goldman all making their presence felt around them. Overall grade: A-

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media