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Bears training camp preview: Linebackers


The following is the seventh of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

They'll have to prove it on the field, of course. But on paper, it appears that the Bears boast one of the league's most talented linebacking corps.

Free-agent acquisition Robert Quinn will pair with perennial Pro Bowler Khalil Mack at outside linebacker, while Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will line up side-by-side at the two inside positions.

Quinn a significant addition

Quinn's signing should provide a huge boost to the Bears defense. The 6-4, 260-pounder has recorded 80.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons with the Rams (2011-17), Dolphins (2018) and Cowboys (2019), including a team-high 11.5 sacks in 14 games last year with Dallas.

"His résumé speaks for itself," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said June 18. "[He's] a really, really talented football player. Everybody just thinks he can rush the passer. But he's relentless, he's tough, he's athletic, he's physical. He'll play really good against the run.

"There's some things he'll have to adapt to from a schematic standpoint. But he's done a great job to this point with picking up the playbook stuff. Just his ability to rush the passer, come off the edge, he's a great pro. He's a great teammate. He's a great person."

Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino echoed those sentiments about Quinn, saying: "No. 1, he's a super person. He is grounded and mature, and I'm really excited to add him as a pro into the room."

Monachino is eager to team Quinn with Mack.

"This is a special situation with two guys that have had outstanding careers in a lot of different ways," Monachino said. "The best part is that we have added another really great pro that is not only going to do a great job of making everyone around him better, but he's going to hold himself to a really high standard every day from a work ethic standpoint."

Mack driven to help Bears rebound

Pagano saw firsthand just how motivated Mack is to help the Bears bounce back from their disappointing 2019 season. There were times during the virtual offseason program that Mack would participate in a video meeting while working out in his home.

"A lot of times he'd be on a call and be in the weight room in the basement of his house," Pagano said. "I've never been to his house, but I know he's got a workout facility there. He'd be working out a lot of the times when we're on the calls.

"He's determined. We want to be the best defense in the National Football League, and he wants to be one of the best players in the National Football League. But more importantly, he just wants to win. He doesn't care about anything else. When you win, there's enough cheese to go around. All he cares about is winning."

Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders in 2018, Mack recorded 12.5 sacks in his first season with the Bears. The 6-3, 269-pounder was voted to his fifth straight Pro Bowl last year, leading the team with 8.5 sacks. But it was the first time since his rookie season with the Raiders in 2014 that he did not record at least 10 sacks.

"There's a lot of things that go into that," Pagano said. "You can go back and say, 'How many times was he doubled, was he tripled? Did they leave an extra protector in there? How many times did he get singled? How many of those times did he win?'

"I think it's a byproduct of a lot of different things. But I just think you've got a really talented football player that's really, really eager like the rest of them to get back on the football field and compete and win and do it at a high level."

Retaining Trevathan a key move

The Bears re-signed Trevathan to a three-year contract in March, five days before he would have become an unrestricted free agent.

Trevathan has been a productive and highly-respected team leader since joining the Bears in 2016. The 6-foot, 237-pounder arrived after helping lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship the previous season.

In four years in Chicago, Trevathan has appeared in 46 games with 45 starts and recorded 327 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, 15 tackles-for-loss, 16 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Trevathan was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018 when he started all 16 games and compiled 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a career-high eight tackles-for-loss. Last year he was leading the Bears with 70 tackles when he sustained a season-ending elbow injury in a Week 10 win over the Lions.

"Danny's leadership is special," said inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone. "It's unique, and I think prior to his injury last year, he was playing the best ball he's ever played. So I think there was a lot of reasons to bring Danny back. I'm excited about that.

"I think from the [inside linebackers] room, there aren't many other players that guys look up to like they look up to Danny. When he goes out and the way he practices and the way he plays, it raises everybody's level. I think he had a lot of ownership in the success that the other guys had in the room last year because of the way he led. So I feel really strongly about him and the way he works every day. I know he makes me a better coach."

Smith primed for breakout season

Expectations are high for Smith, who has shown flashes of greatness since being selected with the eighth pick in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Georgia.

The 6-foot, 230-pounder has led the Bears in tackles in each of his first two NFL seasons. Smith compiled 121 stops in 2018—three shy of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's team rookie record—and 100 last year despite missing the final three games with a torn pectoral muscle.

"Ro played some really good football last year; I don't want that to get lost in the shuffle," DeLeone said. "He had some excellent games and I think the big thing this year is we've got to make that consistent and have that be every game.

"This is a big year for him. I do feel like there's a gradual level where he's getting better and I think going into Year 3 he's going to have a chance to have a breakout year this year. But he has been outstanding this offseason. I think he's been phenomenal physically with his rehab and mentally with me. I'm really proud of him and really excited about the direction he's going."

DeLeone said that in virtual meetings during the offseason program Smith was "extremely inquisitive, asking the right questions" and "locked into everything we're doing."

"Ro is somebody who all the time is texting me and calling me with questions about football," DeLeone said. "He's thinking about football all the time. From that standpoint, he's been excellent. I've always felt he's been like that. To me, Ro has always been a guy who loves football and is a football junkie."

Bears deep at linebacker positions

The competition for roster spots among linebackers figures to be intense this summer. Top reserves returning to the Bears include outside linebacker Isaiah Irving and inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe.

Since being signed in 2017 as an undrafted free agent from San Jose State, Irving has recorded 27 tackles, one sack and one tackle-for-loss while appearing in 33 games, all as a reserve. Iyiegbuniwe, a 2018 fourth-round choice from Western Kentucky, has played in 31 of 32 games in two seasons, primarily on special teams.

Also back are outside linebackers Josh Woods and James Vaughters, who appeared in nine and three contests last year, respectively.

The Bears bolstered their outside linebacker position during the offseason by signing veteran free-agent Barkevious Mingo and selecting Trevis Gipson in the fifth round of the draft out of Tulsa.

Mingo has appeared in 110 NFL games with 38 starts over seven seasons with the Browns (2013-15), Patriots (2016), Colts (2017), Seahawks (2018) and Texans (2019).

Mingo has recorded 220 tackles, 10 sacks, 24 tackles-for-loss, 33 quarterback hits, 14 pass breakups, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and one interception. He was a member of the New England team that won Super Bowl LI by rallying from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to stun the Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

Mingo started a career-high 14 games with the Seahawks in 2018. But the 6-5, 235-pounder played predominantly on special teams with the Texans in 2019 after being acquired in the trade that sent three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle.

"Barkevious is that calm, steady voice of reason that every defense needs," said Monachino, who worked with Mingo as Colts defensive coordinator in 2017. "He is extremely talented, has dominant traits in certain areas. Other areas he's a fine football player. Football makes a great deal of sense to him, so it doesn't take a ton of time to get things installed with him and for him to understand, which is a testament to him and his work ethic and his ability to study and to pick up on things quickly."

Gipson was a two-year starter at Tulsa, where he earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors last year as a senior after setting career highs with 49 tackles, eight sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss. As a junior, he registered 46 tackles, four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss. Gipson forced eight fumbles during his college career, tying for second in the nation with five in 2018.

Also competing for playing time at linebacker in Bears training camp will be veteran Devante Bond and four undrafted rookies: Maryland's Keandre Jones, Western Illinois' LaCale London, Buffalo's Ledarius Mack —the younger brother of Khalil Mack—and Florida Atlantic's Rashad Smith.

As the Bears prepare to head to training camp, check out all 15 linebackers who will patrol the middle of the field and rush the quarterback at Halas Hall this summer.