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Bears likely looking long-term at linebacker

FloridState linebacker Christian Jones runs drill NFL football scouting combine Indianapolis Monday Feb. 24 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) ORG XMIT:

Florida State linebacker Christian Jones runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) ORG XMIT: INMC10

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WATCH LIST

Christian Jones, Florida State, 6-3, 240

If the Bears value versatility, Jones might be the perfect pick in the third or fourth round. Last year, he started every game at strong-side linebacker for the national champions. The year before, he started 10 on the weak side and twice in the middle Jones, who fits Phil Emery’s preference for size and athleticism, also played four years of special teams. The Bears would be happy to carve out that role for the rookie.

Five more

Anthony Barr, UCLA, 6-5, 255: He spent his first two college years at running back but has been a revelation since. He’s probably an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and might be gone before No. 14.

Chris Borland, Wisconsin, 5-11, 248: The Big Ten defensive player of the year piles up tackles and forces fumbles, but his small arms and frame could keep him around until the second or third round, where the Bears could draft him as a middle linebacker.

Khalil Mack, Buffalo, 6-3, 251: With an outstanding mid-major resume and top-tier finishes in four combine drills, Mack is nearly a can’t-miss prospect. However, he won’t be available to the Bears unless they trade up.

C.J. Mosley, Alabama, 6-2, 234: The reigning Butkus Award winner “doesn’t get talked about enough,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said, and he might be right. Mosley is as instinctive as they come.

Shayne Skov, Stanford, 6-2, 245: Two years removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Skov had 109 tackles for the Cardinal last season. He could give the Bears another option at middle linebacker starting in Round 3.

Tuesday: Quarterbacks

Updated: April 21, 2014 3:26PM



Leading up to the NFL draft, which begins May 8, the Sun-Times will take a position-by-position look at the Bears’ needs and which players might be available to fill them.

Coming off a borderline catastrophic season for their linebackers, the Bears have chosen to rebuild the unit not with new faces but with familiar ones.

The team re-signed D.J. Williams, whom it expects to start at middle linebacker after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Week 6 last season.

Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs is back, too, though he will wear a harness on his left shoulder to protect it after suffering a fracture last season.

And the Shea McClellin experiment will begin at strong-side linebacker, with the former defensive end shifting to compete with second-year player Jon Bostic for the starting job. Neither has played the position in the pros.

Bostic and backup weak-side linebacker Khaseem Greene were among the first four players the Bears drafted last year. So why would the team consider drafting another linebacker?

Think 2015.

Briggs’ contract expires at the end of the season, and Williams is signed to a one-year deal. Even if McClellin shines as a rush-first linebacker — and that’s no guarantee — the Bears would have to be confident Bostic and Greene could start in 2015. That seems like a leap.

Bostic was brought in to replace Brian Urlacher, but his move to the outside after one season means he’s more likely to take Lance Briggs’ place. So the Bears still need a long-term middle linebacker.

Bostic and Greene struggled in place of Briggs and Williams last season. From Williams’ injury through the end of the year, Bostic and Greene were given only two positive game grades apiece by Pro Football Focus.

But circumstances figure to prevent the Bears from selecting a linebacker in the first round. The team has other needs — safety and defensive tackle — that are more pressing.

It also seems unlikely that either of the two premier linebackers in the draft — Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Anthony Barr of UCLA — will last to No. 14.

Alabama’s C.J. Mosley might be available, and he’d be an ideal long-term middle linebacker. But with Williams in the fold, it’s unclear how much Mosley would play this season.

Instead, look for the Bears to find a linebacker starting in the third round. They’ll hope he can provide depth for now and push Bostic and Greene next year, when competition for a starting job could heat up.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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