No two teammates in the past 10 years have played linebacker any better than Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who have been together since 2003, during which time they have been voted to 13 Pro Bowls between them.
But, at the moment, Urlacher and Briggs are the only two linebackers that the Bears have under contract.
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Both made the Pro Bowl last season, Briggs for the sixth straight season. Urlacher made it for the seventh time but for the first time in four years, putting to rest speculation that his considerable skills had faded away after a dislocated wrist in the 2009 season opener limited him to one-half of one game.
Urlacher remains a crucial component in the Bears' Cover-2 because he still has the speed and athleticism to patrol the deep middle in some coverages, and he still makes tackles in the running game from sideline to sideline. He led the team in tackles and with 13 pass breakups and with 11 tackles for loss.
Even though an ankle injury caused Briggs to miss one full game and most of another, he was second in tackles and tackles for loss and picked off 2 passes.
Eight-year veteran Pisa Tinoisamoa started 10 games last season at strong-side linebacker, and Nick Roach started the other six, plus 15 in 2009 when Tinoisamoa was injured for most of the season. But both are free agents, as are backups Brian Iwuh and Rod Wilson, who did not figure heavily in the base defense except as emergency replacements.
The Bears had no intention of setting the market for Tinoisamoa. While he is an active and productive player when healthy, he missed four games with knee problems last season and 14 games in 2008, also with knee afflictions.
Roach, a four-year veteran, was tendered in the event he is a restricted free agent if there is a labor settlement. Even if he is unrestricted, the Bears might be forced to meet his price, although at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds, he's the kind of fast, agile Cover-2 linebacker who isn't as valuable to teams not running that scheme.
Because of more serious needs along the offensive and defensive lines, the Bears are not expected to address linebacker until the middle rounds. That's about where local product Martez Wilson should go based on his production at the University of Illinois and his instincts. But Wilson had a phenomenal day at the Combine, running the fastest 40-time of any linebacker, even though he weighed in at a rock-solid 250 pounds, so he will probably be overdrafted.
Some NFL experts project Wilson as someone who could become a dangerous pass rusher, and that would be appealing to the Bears, who had a total of just 34 sacks, even with Julius Peppers.
A more likely scenario could see the Bears getting a player like Syracuse's undersized, athletic Doug Hogue in the middle rounds.
Need: 7 (On a scale with 10 representing a dire need and 1 representing no need at all.)