Bears draft preview: Linebackers

Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming runs a drill at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. AP Photo/Dave Martin

The Chicago Bears secured the services of veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, and will likely try just as hard in the coming months to lock up franchise stalwart Brian Urlacher, who has a year remaining on his contract.

The team still needs to prepare for life after Briggs and Urlacher, and could start the process of adding potential successors during the NFL Draft. Urlacher will be 34 once the 2012 season starts and Briggs turns 32 in November, but Bears coach Lovie Smith laughs off the suggestion his star players are aging.

“Every time I bring up getting younger with Brian… I mean, he gets a big chuckle when someone like you bring[s] it up,” Smith said at the NFL Combine. “Just look at what those players have done. I’ve heard that about Lance Briggs getting older, Julius Peppers, [and] Charles Tillman. All four of those guys were in the Pro Bowl this year. For me, we have other concerns. That’s not one of them.”

Perhaps not, but that hasn’t stopped the club from showing interest in a few prospects from the 2012 class of linebackers. The Bears have reportedly scheduled pre-draft visits for North Carolina’s Zach Brown and Notre Dame’s Darius Fleming. Brown, who ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, could be gone by the start of the third round, while Fleming -- a former St. Rita standout -- is considered somewhat of a tweener teams could take a chance on in the fourth or fifth round.

So while the interest seems to be there for the Bears, it’s unknown whether they will actually spend a pick on a linebacker. The club selected West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas last year in the sixth round, and the current roster features several young players such as Dom DeCicco, Patrick Trahan and Jabara Williams.

Besides that Briggs doesn’t appear to be comfortable with the idea of the team playing without him and Urlacher.

“Hopefully we can play until we’re 49 years old if that’s possible,” Briggs joked.

The next 10: 11. OLB Sean Spence, Miami, 6-0, 231; 12. ILB James-Michael Johnson, Nevada, 6-1, 241; 13. OLB Nigel Bradham, Florida State, 6-2, 241; 14. OLB Josh Kaddu, Oregon, 6-0, 239; 15. OLB Olivier Vernon, Miami, 6-2, 261; 16. OLB Demario Davis, Arkansas State, 6-2, 235; 17. OLB Terrell Manning, North Carolina State, 6-2, 237; 18. OLB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma, 6-1, 246; 19. OLB Audie Cole, North Carolina State, 6-4, 246; 20. OLB Miles Burris, San Diego State, 6-2, 246. Note: Some of the prospects listed also project as 4-3 defensive ends.

Position grade: B-.

Analysis: Despite the criticism thrown at the Bears for executing out of the 4-3, one positive about the defense is strong linebacking prospects often fall to the club, in part because of the NFL’s current infatuation with the 3-4 look. Because so many teams have shifted to the 3-4, the talent pool for the run-and-hit types the Bears covet at linebacker opens tremendously. So if the Bears want to plan for the future at the position, plenty of options should be available in the later rounds.