The era of the 3-4 defense is about to begin in Chicago and it has been a long time coming.
Finding the moving pieces to make this scheme thrive is going to be a rigorous process. One of the most important components to the 3-4 is strong play from the linebackers – both outside and inside and they will need A LOT of them. The Bears are going through their own roster as we speak to see if they have anyone to fill some spots, but it is hard to tell without seeing them on the field.
The 3-4 has a lot of moving parts. There are about 9-10 players who could be potential fits if they are not released or traded. And if they are not starters, they could very well factor in as situational rushers.
Jared Allen, Willie Young, David Bass, Cornelius Washington and Shea McClellin should all get a look at OLB. Whether they can adjust and execute remains to be seen. Jonathan Bostic, Christian Jones and Khaseem Greene will get a shot at ILB. I have a strong feeling that Jones could be a starter when the season begins. The Bears may also want to think about resigning Daryl Sharpton on a prove it deal. He could be a good fit in the middle as well, and has experience in the 3-4.
While there are a ton of unknowns above, there are free agents out there that fit the style of play that Vic Fangio is looking for. Below are OLB’s and ILB’s that could help get the Bears defense back to where it needs to be.
Here are the guys on the outside:
Pernell McPhee (Ravens) OLB
McPhee should be a top target for the Bears. He has been improving each year in the league. The Ravens used him all over the field, and he is strong at both pass rushing and setting the edge. He would be a huge get for the Bears, but will have many suitors the second the free agency bell rings.
Jason Worilds (Steelers) OLB
He will be another highly targeted player on Tuesday. He is an explosive pass rusher who has been hidden behind bigger names in Pittsburgh. When they moved on, it was his time to shine. Jason is hitting his prime at just the right time for the Bears to strike.
Brooks Reed (Texans) OLB
Reed is relentless, and has the stable of moves the get after the quarterback. He is good at shedding blocks, and has good outside awareness. Even if the Bears go after the top tier guys, Reed would be a great fit from day one.
Brian Orakpo (Redskins) OLB
He has been one of the best pass rushers over the last several years – when he can stay on the field. There have been some major injury issues that have derailed his career a bit. When healthy, he is an absolute force. An incentive laden deal would be key.
Brandon Graham (Eagles) OLB
Graham has not been used a ton in Philly, but has shown strong flashes. He is scheme versatile, so the Bears could find ways to maximize his play. He is also strong against the run. A bit of an unknown, but worth a shot.
Here are the guys on the inside:
Brandon Spikes (Bills) ILB
Spikes is the kind of beast the Bears need in the middle. He has the type of mentality and play that inspires a defense., and that is something that is sorely needed. He may not be the best in coverage, but he definitely makes it count when he is on the field.
Mason Foster (Buccaneers) ILB
Foster is an every down player who is strong against the run and the pass. He has the type of agility to get to where he needs to be quickly. He almost seemed misused in the Tampa 2, and playing in a 3-4 should only up his game.
David Harris (Jets) ILB
The Bears are said to have interest in Harris. He is a little older than the other targets at 31, but has been very reliable over his career. He is a strong tackler, and always seems to be in the right place. He would become a leader of the defense from the start.
Nate Irving (Broncos) ILB
Irving is coming off a knee injury, but when healthy, is very strong against the run. Fox knows what he would be getting right away, and knows what kind of improvements need to be made. If his health checks out, he is definitely worthy of a spot.
Malcolm Smith (Seahawks) ILB
Smith is one of the many talented players on the Seahawks defense. It’s a name you may not hear as often, but he makes it count on the field. He is strong against the run, and even stronger against the pass. Smith tends to grab interceptions at very important times, which we have been missing in the middle.
There will also be some solid players in the second tier:
Bruce Carter (Cowboys) OLB
O’Brien Schofield (Seahawks) OLB
Akeen Ayers (Patriots) OLB
Dan Skuta (49ers) ILB
AJ Hawk (Packers – released) ILB
Geno Hayes (Jaguars) ILB
The key to a 3-4 is depth, and all of the above would accomplish that and then some.