Ever since the Bears employed the 3-4 defensive scheme in 2015, the outside linebacker position has become the most important one on their defense. It’s where the bulk of the pass rush comes from, brings speed to this side of the ball, and adds to the legacy of the linebacker position for the Bears. Historically, Bears linebackers have been some of the greatest to play the position. The pass rush has seen a slight decline over the previous two seasons, but the team hopes to turn that around in 2021. Here are the outside linebackers hoping to crack the Bears' roster this season.
The Bears' $141 million man was on the injury report nearly for nearly all of the 2020 season, but he did play in every game. And perhaps that slowed him down as he didn't beat blocks as easily as he usually does. Mack posted his second-lowest regular-season total in tackles (50) and third-lowest season total in both sacks (9.0) and tackles for a loss (11). A fully healthy Mack should increase his production this year and make the Bears pass rush a formidable force again.
Related: Chicago Bears 2021 Preview
Quinn received a $70 million deal to provide another pass-rush specialist opposite of Mack, but he was also bit by the injury bug. While he did play in 15 games last year, Quinn admitted that, like Mack, he had also dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season. As a result, the 11-year veteran posted career lows in sacks (2.0) and TFLs (0), while tying his career-low for quarterback hits (6). This would explain why he didn’t look as explosive off the line as he did in seasons past. Quinn must also have a bounce-back year if the Bears are to be successful in 2021.
This eight-year veteran brings valuable experience and depth to this Bears team. Especially since he’s posted 144 total tackles, 31 TFLs, 20.5 sacks, 42 QB hits, and four forced fumbles for the Chargers, Jets, and Broncos since entering the league in 2014. His résumé alone will force the younger players to step their games up. He is beginning a two-year, $5.55 million deal that includes $2.85 million in guarantees.
Last year’s fifth-round draft choice for the Bears appeared in seven games but had a minimal impact (5 tackles, 3 QB hits). Gipson will need to make a bigger impact this year if he wants to stay in the rotation. He was a pass-rushing specialist at Tulsa, where he picked up 8.0 sacks and 15.0 tackles for a loss in his senior season.
After appearing in just three games for the Bears in 2019, Vaughters suited up for 14 games last season. And while the box scores didn’t say much (25 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits), most of Vaughters’ impact was felt on special teams. That aspect of the game could be his ticket to being on the regular-season roster again, but a more well-rounded performance will give him a more secure place on the team.
Khalil’s younger brother was on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted rookie last year, but now he hopes to join his brother in wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Ledarius just happened to attend the same college as Khalil (Buffalo), where he totaled 13.5 TFLs and nine sacks in two seasons. This preseason will be his chance to prove that he deserves a roster spot.
This undrafted rookie posted 191 tackles, 30.5 TFLs, 15.0 sacks, and 15 pass deflections during four seasons at Virginia (2017-20). Even though he went undrafted, the Bears like his size (6-6, 243) and are high on his potential. He must now showcase his skills during these preseason games.