This is the seventh of position-by-position looks at the Bears personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Chicago's LB situation.
Overview: The linebacking corps was still one of the strongest positions for the team. The Pro Bowl tag team of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs delivered its standard performance in 2010.
Urlacher returned after missing all but the first game of the '09 season with a dislocated wrist, and the time off served him well. He had a strong response for anyone who doubted that he could still perform at a consistently elite level. Briggs missed Week Six and part of Week Seven with an injury, but he was named to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl. Urlacher made the NFC squad for the seventh time, his first since '06.
The Bears have some business to take care of when it comes to filling out the depth chart at 'backer, however. Briggs and Urlacher are the only LBs under contract for 2011.
Hunter Hillenmeyer was released earlier this week and he might not continue playing because of a history of concussions. Brian Iwuh, Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Rod Wilson are all set to hit free agency.
Here's a breakdown of each of the linebackers on the roster:
Lance Briggs: A tough, instinctive weak-side 'backer, Briggs didn't have his best season in 2010 and finished behind Urlacher in the competition to lead the team in tackles. He's still one of the top players at his position, though, and isn't slowing down much. Briggs, 30, is heading into his ninth season.
Brian Iwuh: He started one game on the weak side when Briggs was sidelined by an injury and did a nice job filling in, but Iwuh helped out primarily on special teams. The Bears would like to have him back in the same role. He could re-sign with them if he doesn't find an opportunity to start with a different team.
Nick Roach: Roach's contract is due to expire this offseason. He lost a training-camp battle to Tinoisamoa for the starting job on the strong side, but made six starts at the position. He's dependable, smart and can help on special teams.
Pisa Tinoisamoa: His contract is up and his future is uncertain after struggling through knee issues in each of his two seasons with the Bears. Tinoisamoa, who will turn 30 in July, wants to keep playing, and he'd like to stay in Chicago. He's solid when healthy, but the Bears might look to get younger at the position.
Brian Urlacher: The vocal leader on "D" will turn 33 years old in May and it appears that Urlacher has some good seasons ahead of him. He knows the calls to make to get the defense set up before the snap and still is quick enough to make plays. His size makes a disruptive presence in coverage. Urlacher made a team-high 125 tackles last season, which is the most he has been credited with since the '06 campaign.
Rod Wilson: He's a core special-teams player and the Bears will consider re-signing him if the price is right.
Bottom line: Briggs and Urlacher continue to produce at a high level, but it's unclear who will be playing alongside them next season. The Bears likely will try to re-sign a free agent or two, and it could be a spot they address in the draft.
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