The Bears gave themselves some flexibility for the upcoming draft by signing veteran linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson to make up for the departures of Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach.
But linebacker undoubtedly will be a position addressed come draft time.
Lance Briggs still is a star, while Williams and Anderson are solid players with good years left, but the Bears’ linebacker corps needs to get younger. Some help is needed behind Briggs (32), Williams (30) and Anderson (29) for this year and beyond. It’s a great year to bring in a touted rookie or two to learn from some seasoned pros.
General manager Phil Emery has a strong preference for versatile players who transcend schemes. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the linebacker prospects in the 2013 draft:
FIVE OF INTEREST
Arthur Brown, Kansas State: Some consider Brown the most versatile linebacker in the draft, capable of playing any LB position in a 4-3 defense like the Bears use.
Zaviar Gooden, Missouri: He’s the fastest linebacker in the draft but was hindered by injuries his senior season.
Khaseem Greene, Rutgers: Green is fast and athletic and could be available in the second round.
Alec Ogletree, Georgia: He’s considered the best inside linebacker, but he comes with some off-the-field concerns.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame: Emery was impressed with Te’o after hosting him at Halas Hall.
THE THREE BEST
Dion Jordan, Oregon: Jordan is a 3-4 defensive coordinator’s dream with size, speed, athleticism and tenacity coming off the edge as an outside linebacker/defensive end.
Barkevious Mingo, LSU: Mingo rates a slight edge behind Jordan at outside linebacker/defensive end, but he brings the same qualities minus some of the size.
Jarvis Jones, Georgia: There are concerns about a past neck injury, but he has the talent and skills to be an inside or outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Plus, he’s a great pass rusher.
THE THREE SLEEPERS
Kiko Alonso, Oregon: He was productive for the Ducks, but teams have concerns about his character.
Jon Bostic, Florida: Bostic is powerful and it shows, but quickness might be an issue for him.
Sean Porter, Texas A&M: Porter is athletic and productive. He also has success playing in multiple schemes, which Emery likes.
Two linebacker prospects were brought up at Bears general manager Phil Emery’s news conference before voluntary minicamp this week — Georgia’s Alec Ogletree and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.
While Te’o has garnered plenty of headlines and has been linked to the Bears in some notable mock drafts, it’s Ogletree’s availability that should really affect the team’s draft plans when the 20th selection comes up.
Ogletree, an athletic 6-3, 242-pounder, is projected as a first-rounder, and teams such as the New York Giants, who have the No. 19 pick, could take him, which could compel the Bears to trade down. But if he’s there at No. 20, Ogletree might be too good and intriguing for the Bears to pass on for a trade.
“I’m very comfortable with my skills,” Ogletree said at the scouting combine. “I think I’m very versatile. I can cover and come up against the run and hit. I can just fill the gap.”
The Bears have three solid linebackers in Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams and James Anderson, but the team needs to get younger at the position. Ogletree is widely considered the best middle linebacker in this draft class, while others such as Georgia teammate Jarvis Jones, Oregon’s Dion Jordan and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo are the top outside linebackers. Jones, Jordan and Mingo are projected to be gone by No. 20.
Emery puts a premium on versatility, and Ogletree fits that bill. Similar to longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, Ogletree is a former safety, making the switch to linebacker at Georgia.
“I’ve only been playing linebacker two years,” Ogletree said. “It was a great transition for me at Georgia. We were in a 3-4 and while playing my freshmen year as a safety, I was able to learn the defense. With the move in the spring to linebacker helped me stay on top of things.”
Ogletree played primarily in the middle at Georgia, but some analysts believe he can fit at any linebacker spot. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. also considers Ogletree one of the best coverage linebackers in the class.
Ogletree’s off-the-field problems are disconcerting. He had a DUI arrest in February after being suspended for a positive drug test this past season. Both matters have been brought up by teams in interviews.
“I’m a good person at heart,” Ogletree said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I feel real bad about the situation. I’m learning from it, and I’m moving forward.”
Emery was asked directly about Ogletree and his off-the-field concerns.
“I won’t get into specifics in terms of specific issues with players,” said Emery, who has shown he’s willing to take chances on players with character questions. “But I’ll tell you this, we do our homework. We work extremely hard at knowing the character of the players. Then it’s our decision, whatever we find out about their background, their personal behavior and whether any incidences they’ve been involved in off the field, whether we find those acceptable for us and whether the fit’s right for us.”