Just like in 2009, linebacker should be the Chicago Bears’ biggest strength this season, despite Jamar Williams being traded to the Carolina Panthers. A few e-mailers have suggested the Bears left themselves perilously thin on the weak side by dealing Williams, and worry if a proper contingency plan is in place if Lance Briggs gets hurt.
Briggs is very durable, missing only three games during his seven-year career. However, all three absences have occurred in the past three seasons, so the Bears have been forced to shuffle the lineup on a few occasions. If something does happen to Briggs in 2010, Lovie Smith can go in a few different directions.
First of all, Pisa Tinoisamoa, a candidate to start on the strong side, had a successful run playing weak-side linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, recording 135 tackles in 2008 at the WLB position. What also makes this an attractive option for Smith, is that Nick Roach could easily handle the strong side spot if Tinoisamoa is forced to move. Roach may even wind up starting the year at SLB. Tinoisamoa brings a wealth of experience to the table, plus has ties to Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich that date all the way back to 2003, when all three were in St. Louis.
The second route may be a tad risky, but many around the league believe Tim Shaw could one day be a defensive starter. Known almost exclusively for his special teams abilities, Shaw is extremely quick and athletic and has all the traits to play the position.
The big negative here would be Shaw’s lack of experience, but the linebacker has run with the second team during voluntary workouts, because Williams chose not to attend the workouts before being dealt. Take a good look at Shaw during defensive drills when training camp rolls around and you might be surprised how fluid he looks on the field.
In the end, no team is truly equipped to absorb the loss of a perennial Pro Bowl player such as Briggs. You simply can’t replace that type of production. But if the worst happens, at least you can take comfort in knowing the Bears have enough talent to likely weather the storm.