The Bears released Hunter Hillenmeyer after he had been with the Bears for several seasons as a very valuable backup at all three linebacker positions. Hillenmeyer had suffered a concussion during the preseason last year and was shut down after the first game (against the Detroit Lions) and never saw the field again.
Chicago determined that he was no longer part of their long term plans and was cut last month.
The Bears go into the offseason with a ton of question marks all across the linebacking corps. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are locks but Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach are not under contract yet so the Bears may end up losing them depending on what happens with the contract situation right now. Couple that with the departure of Hillenmeyer the Bears could be in trouble at the linebacker position.
Chicago wont want to spend a high draft pick on a linebacker in this draft because they have too many serious needs at other positions. It’s possible that they could find someone that could fit their needs in the middle rounds of the draft (the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds) so they may try to find someone there.
Let’s take a look at three linebackers that the Bears could be interested in and may consider grabbing in the middle rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Ross Homan-Ohio State-Depending on whom you talk to, Homan may end up being a better middle linebacker than he would be an outside linebacker but he could eventually move in to take over for Urlacher after he retires.
Homan plays intense and with a high motor all of the time. He takes great angles to the ball carrier, isn’t afraid to drop back and cover receivers, tight ends or running backs in pass patterns (and he’s pretty good at dropping into coverage). He knows the game inside and out, studies film and spends time in the weight room. He’s quick, can get off blocks well and is a sure tackler.
What Homan struggles with is reading and recognizing plays. There are times when he can get lulled into something that he can’t get out of (such as on a play action fake) and then he struggles to recover when misreads the play. He hasn’t been tested much as a pass rusher in college and will struggle trying to get through blocks. Homan may not be able to bring down bigger ball carriers.
Lawrence Wilson-Connecticut-Wilson plays with decent speed and plays faster than he is timed. He has the size to compete and play at the position and had a very productive career while he was in college. He plays with a lot of intensity and has a high motor. He works through blocks well enough to get to the ball carrier quickly and make the play and can read and react to plays quickly. He can work his way through gaps to get to the quarterback and has the speed to get up the field quickly.
The biggest problem with Wilson is his size. While he does have the size to compete as he is right now he could stand to add some extra weight to help him withstand the rigors of the NFL and help him work better against bigger players. Wilson doesn’t always take the best angle to the ball carrier and struggles to get under control at times. He also needs to work on his technique more.
J.T. Thomas-West Virginia-A very athletic linebacker Thomas combines a hard work ethic with a likeness for the game and is a coach’s dream. He can cover backs and tight ends and with his speed and quickness and can make plays in the secondary. He is a good tackler as well and gets to the ball quickly and at a good angle.
He struggles to get off of blocks at times and will have problems with larger blockers. While he can locate the ball well he doesn’t have the instincts to know where the play is going on how it’s going to unfold and this can make him a non-factor at times. While he can get through the line and get to the quarterback thanks to his size he can’t get past blockers that well (using pass rushing moves) and can’t catch up to faster quarterbacks.