Trio of Bears LBs proved their worth vs. Falcons
With three new linebackers in the starting lineup last week against the Falcons, the Bears allowed just 13 points, the fewest they have surrendered in 22 games under head coach Marc Trestman.
The defense allowed 287 yards, the fewest it has permitted all season. It held a Falcons offense that had averaged 30.2 points through the first five games, to 1 touchdown.
None of those three linebackers -- Khaseem Greene on the weak side, Darryl Sharpton in the middle and Christian Jones on the strong side -- had started a game for the Bears this season.
Jones, an undrafted rookie from Florida State, had never started a pro game. Sharpton, who started 19 games with the Texans over his first four years in the NFL, wasn't signed by the Bears until Sept. 25. Greene, the Bears' fourth-round pick in 2013, started four games as a rookie -- more because of injuries to others than on merit.
This week it's possible none of them will be in the starting lineup. And it's possible all three could be back in the starting lineup, depending on the health of the four linebackers who were playing in front of them earlier in the season.
Seven-time Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) is out, and 2013 second-round draft pick Jon Bostic (back) is questionable. Shea McClellin started the first two games at strong-side linebacker, missed the next four with a broken hand and is expected back Sunday against Miami, but he may need some time to knock off the rust. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams missed last week with a neck injury but is probable, as is McClellin.
Regardless of how many of the subs have to step up against the Dolphins, there won't be nearly as much trepidation as a week ago. Not after they combined for 17 tackles, 2 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit in Atlanta. All three were integral to the Bears' best defensive effort of the season.
Bears linebacker coach Reggie Herring could have predicted as much, especially about the 26-year-old Sharpton.
"It's no secret he's a little tight, a little stiff, but he'll get there in a hurry," Herring said. "He's got to take the perfect angle, he's got to be a perfect student, but he's got all the want-to and pride and all the intangibles you want.
"He's just not very big. He'll knock himself out. That's been the issue there in Houston, he'd go full speed and be injured early on."
Herring was Sharpton's position coach in three of the previous four years with Houston. Sharpton is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, but he comes up big. That was evident after one quarter last week, when Sharpton had some knock-out hits vs. the Falcons.
"You get every ounce," Herring said. "He's packed in small, but he plays big. He's a big hitter with a big heart."
That would not have been the scouting report on Greene last year after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Rutgers.
"I heard all the stories (but) really didn't want to hear it," Herring said. "They say he was pudgy, but who am I to talk? I'm pudgy. (They said) he had a weight issue; lack of commitment was all I heard."
Herring and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker gave Greene another chance this season after he was inactive for the first two games, and he's shown improvement.
"Maturity," Herring said. "Mel will tell you. Look in his eyes. I wasn't here last year, so I don't care about what happened; it's what we're going to do from here on out."
Greene is tied for the team lead with 5 special-teams tackles and has demonstrated more desire and commitment there and on defense.
In Jones, Herring and the Bears' staff believed they got a gift after he went undrafted following a failed drug test at the Scouting Combine and a team suspension at Florida State before that.
"I was giddy," Herring said. "I think he feels he's fortunate to have the opportunity, and we feel fortunate that we have the kind of quality individual, which goes back to his parents and his raising."
Jones' father, Willie, played at Florida State and for the Raiders. Christian was predicted by draft prognosticators as a third- or fourth-round pick before the character questions surfaced. He's big and fast but that's not enough, according to Herring.
If they're lazy or non-committed, Herring said, "I don't care how much ability they have, they're never going to develop into what you want.
"We've seen progress each day by his actions on the field. What we're excited about is the depth potential that he gives to you and the promise of the future that some day could be a starter in this league every day."
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