The last time the Bears drafted a linebacker who was a converted safety — like this year's fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene — it turned out pretty well.
That was in 2000, when the Bears made New Mexico's Brian Urlacher the ninth overall pick and then watched him become the leading tackler in franchise history and an eight-time Pro Bowl pick.
Greene was selected 117th overall by general manager Phil Emery, who was clearly determined to infuse talent and youth into the linebacker position that lost Urlacher, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes in the off-season.
A day earlier, the Bears took Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic with the 50th overall pick.
Unrestricted free agents D.J. Williams and James Anderson were added earlier in free agency, but both signed one-year deals, which didn't do enough for the long-term health of the position.
“Obviously we felt like we had to add to the group,” Emery said. “We had to add players to the group. It worked out value-wise that those picks were linebackers. And we were happy that happened.”
The 6-foot-1, 241-pound Greene was the Big East defensive player of the year last season after sharing that honor in 2011.
After leading Rutgers with 3 interceptions as a safety in 2010, Greene moved to weak-side linebacker and led the team in tackles in each of his last two seasons, a total of 277 hits.
He also had 26½ tackles for loss and 9½ sacks in his two seasons at linebacker. His 15 career forced fumbles are an NCAA record.
“I don't give up on any plays,” Greene said, “whether I'm in front of the guy and trying to put my face on the ball to cause a fumble or I'm chasing the guy and trying to strip him, or I'm coming in as second man in, third man in and stripping him.
“My mentality is I want to get the ball back, and I want to get it to my offense. That's my philosophy, creating takeaways. It's always instilled in my head. It's something that I worked on for the last five years at Rutgers, and I'm definitely going to still work on it going forward from here.”
Greene did not receive high grades in athleticism from draft analysts. His 7.61-second time in the three-cone drill was mediocre, and critics believe that unless he gets stronger and better able to shed blocks he might be limited to playing on the weak side.
Emery preferred to focus on the positive aspects of Greene's play.
“In two years (at linebacker), look at what Khaseem has done,” the Bears' GM said. “Regardless of how you scout him, or if you see his strengths and weaknesses, look at the things you can't deny: athleticism, production, leadership, ability to change positions and be productive. Those are the things that turn us on.”
Having made the move from the secondary to weakside linebacker, Greene believes he could play any of the LB positions.
“I think I can play wherever I need to,” he said. “Teams were telling me they like me on the inside in a 3-4 scheme, and some teams told me they liked me at Will (weak side) in a 4-3 scheme.”
Greene believes his earlier experience at safety has helped him be a more complete linebacker.
“It taught me the value of coverages,” he said. “Covering the slot, covering the tight ends, and then covering running backs once I moved to linebacker. It was extremely easy for me to pick up covering running backs and anticipate what those guys were doing and what kind of moves they would be making.”
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