Welcome to the ninth of our 12-part series as we get you ready for Bears Training Camp 2022 by looking at each position group on the depth chart, special teams and the new coaching staff.
We’ll bring you brief scouting reports with pluses and minuses for every notable player, how each group stacks up against the rest of the NFL, projected potential surprises and disappointments, the final 53-man roster and likely practice squad keepers.
Part 9 – Linebackers
Linebacker is actually one of the Bears’ most interesting positions with a legit All-Pro in Roquan Smith, a potential diamond-in-the-rough sidekick in Nicholas Morrow and a handful of tempting developmental kids.
It also is the position head coach Matt Eberflus played and made his bones at as a coach, so it is fair to project a bit more here than at other positions.
A top-five linebacker in the league, Smith has it all and can do it all. You might wish he were an inch or two taller and 5 or 10 pounds heavier, but we’re picking nits, and he is an extremely high-character person. He just turned 25 in April and has tremendous leadership traits.
Biggest plus: Smith is equally at home against the run, in coverage and as an effective blitzer.
Biggest concern: Although he’ll play hurt, he has been a tad fragile.
On tape, Morrow actually reminds you a lot of Smith. Same body type, speed, quickness and athleticism, and he hits like a freight train.
However, he is well behind in his development because of his humble beginnings as an undrafted rookie free agent out of FCS Greenville University.
Biggest plus: He’s a special athlete and appears to be a special young man.
Biggest concern: First four seasons with Raiders he started 29 of 62 games but could never hold the job and spent 2021 on injured reserve.
Johnson was an undrafted rookie in 2021. He made the team because of his motor, hustle and aggressiveness and was a significant special teams contributor, dressing for 14 games.
Like Morrow, Johnson, coming out of tiny FCS Houston Baptist, has a bigger hill to climb than most.
Biggest plus: Natural athleticism, instincts and attitude give him a chance to push for starting SAM linebacker spot.
Biggest concern: So much to learn and prove.
Snowden is a man without a position who probably should be rated with the defensive ends. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, he’s a prototypical outside rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme who may never be stout enough to be a 40-front defensive end, but he will get to compete there if Robert Quinn is gone.
Biggest plus: The kid’s a natural edge bender.
Biggest concern: Where do you play him in the Tampa 2?
He’s another Smith clone but nowhere near the athlete and probably no more than a journeyman. Adams is a veteran security blanket who was with Eberlus in Indianapolis.
Biggest plus: He knows the system. Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams trust him.
Thomas is also a Smith, Morrow -body type on the inside who’s logged minutes with the Packers, Cowboys, Texans and Ravens but has just 16 starts in 89 games over seven seasons.
Thomas is also a Smith, Morrow body type on the inside who’s logged minutes with the Packers, Cowboys, Texans and Ravens but has only 16 starts in 89 games over seven seasons.
Biggest plus: Veteran presence, special teams chops.
Biggest concern: Not an NFL front-line talent.
Sanborn was an excellent college linebacker at Wisconsin who stands out among the rest of the undrafted rookie free agents as a local kid out of Lake Zurich.
Biggest plus: Some impressive traits as a traditional 4-3 run stuffing MIKE linebacker.
Biggest concern: Tampa 2 linebackers aren’t traditional, and lack of special athleticism could make it tough for him to compete.
C. J. Avery, Christian Albright, Noah Dawkins
Avery, out of Louisville, was the most impressive in OTAs and minicamps, and his hustle and aggressiveness early probably contributed to the Bears losing an OTA for violating the rules on live contact – not necessarily the worst faux pa when you’re looking to get noticed.
Where they fit in NFL: They’re top half of the league just because of Smith.
Potential: Top-10 group if Morrow and Johnson take the next big steps they appear to have in them.
Surprises: Johnson, Snowden or even Sanborn beat out Adams and/or Thomas for the starting SAM spot.
Disappointments: We’ve already seen everything this group has to offer.
Outcome: Smith and Morrow are the only sure things. The best fit at SAM and special teams will dictate the rest, but you’d expect Johnson and Adams to stick, Snowden and Sanborn next in line?
There is something about Avery that screams practice squad.