October 11, 2009: LINEBACKER
WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER-Lance Briggs
MIDDLE LINEBACKER-Brian Urlacher
STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER-Barry Minter
In contention: Lance Briggs, Joe Cain, Rosevelt Colvin, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Warrick Holdman, Dante Jones, Barry Minter, Vinson Smith, Brian Urlacher
The history of Bears linebackers is a wonderful one, and not just the men in the middle. If players like Fortunado, Connor, Buffone, Wilson, and Marshall stand a rung below George, Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher, it is only due to the greatness of the latter group. From outside to inside, the Chicago Bears have been blessed with wonderful linebackers, and the readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team is no exception, with Lance Briggs and Barry Minter flanking the great Urlacher.
A third round selection out of Arizona in 2003, Lance Briggs was never expected to be a star. But he started 13 games as a rookie, finished fourth on the team in tackles, and scored his first career touchdown in Week 14 loss to the Packers. In the five years following, he started every game he played and only missed two due to injury. He earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2005 and has been named to that team every season since. He led the team in tackles in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and finished second to Urlacher in 2005 and 2007. His four defensive touchdowns in the Post-Ditka Era leave him second to only Mike Brown, and his 537 tackles places him second only to Urlacher. An impact player of the highest order, Briggs has a chance to end his career as the greatest outside linebacker in Bears history.
Our selection in the middle may be obvious, but when it comes to the obvious ones it is often quite valuable to take a hard look at the numbers, just to remind yourself of what was so obvious to begin with. First of all, Urlacher is, in the PD Era, far and away the team’s leader in tackles with 813. Briggs is second with 537, Mike Brown and Charles Tillman recorded 421 and 413, respectively, and no one else is above 400. His 37.5 sacks tied with Alex Brown for second in the PD Era, and his 17 interceptions tied with Mike Brown for third. He started 14 of 16 games his rookie year, and started all 16 in every season after with the exception of 2004. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He really has no competition in the middle among PD Era Bears…
…and his only competition for best inside linebacker in the NFL during the 2000s is Baltimore’s Ray Lewis. Urlacher’s six Pro Bowls in the decade is tied with Zach Thomas and one behind Lewis, while Urlacher’s four 1st team All Pro selections is second only to Lewis, who has five. Number 54 will retire as a true heir to the Bears’ middle linebacker tradition, and will certainly enter the Hall of Fame when his playing days are done.
The only true competition at linebacker on the RJ AB PD Team is the other outside spot. This is difficult because two of the contenders, Minter and Joe Cain, played a great deal in the middle. Cain and Vinson Smith were terrific in the mid portion of the 1990s, while Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman were an imposing duo for the 2001 team. Colvin has the flashiest stats: his 26 sacks trails only Urlacher’s among PD Era LBs (Minter is third with 11.5, and no one else has double figures), and his ten forced fumbles are tops of that group. His 1999 draft buddy Holdman started more games and recorded more tackles. And Cain started 61 of 63 games he played in a Bears uniform, missing only one game in his four seasons.
But we will take Minter. He is one of only six Bears defenders to play at least 100 games in the PD Era (Urlacher 137, A. Brown 111, MINTER 110, Flanigan 108, Azumah 105, M. Brown 100). He was a full-time starter for only three seasons (’97-’99) but was a valuable rotation defender and special teamer from 1994 to 1996. Since none of the other four players stand out as no-brainers, Minter gets the start as a nod to his overall performance and leadership during eight seasons in Chicago.