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New linebackers should provide boost

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

OTHER POSITION PREVIEWS: D-Line | Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

If the Bears defense takes a big jump this season like many expect, it could be due to a markedly improved linebacking corps.

General manager Ryan Pace addressed the position in a major way during the offseason, signing veteran inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency before selecting outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth pick in the draft.

A look at the Bears position by position. In the seventh of eight position previews in advance of Training Camp we look at the Bears linebackers in action.

Trevathan and Freeman are ascending players entering their fifth NFL seasons who will bring playmaking ability, attitude and much-needed speed to the Bears defense.

Both are three-down linebackers who excel against the run and the pass. Over the past four seasons, Trevathan recorded 282 tackles, three sacks, five interceptions and three forced fumbles while playing for the Broncos, while Freeman amassed 478 tackles, 12 sacks, four picks and eight forced fumbles for the Colts.

"They're still young and yet been proven to be productive players in the National Football League," coach John Fox said in March. "And that's what we targeted in free agency; not going too crazy [as far as the] financial aspect and yet improving your team."

Selected by the Broncos in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Trevathan spent his first three NFL seasons playing for Fox, who served as Denver's head coach from 2011-14.

Last season Trevathan was a key member of the Broncos' Super Bowl-winning defense. Playing in a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his career, he registered a team-leading 109 tackles for a unit that ranked first in the NFL in total yards and passing yards. He recovered two fumbles in Denver's 24-10 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

Freeman was a tackling machine with the Colts. Last year he registered 112 stops, three sacks and one interception he returned 23 yards for a touchdown in 13 games.

Freeman took an unorthodox route to the NFL. He played at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, a Division III school in Texas, and then spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2009-11 before joining the Colts.

Overcoming astronomical odds will always motivate the new Bears linebacker.

"That chip on my shoulder is never going to get knocked off," Freeman said in March. "It's always going to be there and it's kind of shaped the kind of player that I am—the aggressiveness, the recklessness, just out there running around because I can really appreciate where I've come from. A lot of people counted me out in a lot of different situations. So I definitely carry that chip."

The Bears bolstered their pass rush by trading up two spots to draft Floyd, a 6-6, 240-pounder who had 184 tackles, 28.5 tackles-for-loss and 17 sacks in three seasons at Georgia.

"We said all along we wanted to improve the athleticism and speed on our defense and we've definitely done that with Leonard Floyd," general manager Ryan Pace said after the draft. "He brings great athleticism for a guy that tall with that kind of length. He brings some juice to our defense that we need and will definitely help our pass rush."

Floyd joins a deep outside linebacker position that's led by veterans Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Sam Acho.

Last year's prized free-agent acquisition, McPhee recorded five sacks, 42 tackles and seven tackles-for-loss in the first seven games in 2015 before he was slowed by a knee injury. McPhee continues to recover from the injury, sitting out the entire offseason program. More will be known about his availability for training camp next Wednesday when the Bears report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

After missing the last eight games with a torn ACL in his first year with the Bears in 2014, Houston rebounded in 2015 while switching from defensive end to outside linebacker, recording a career-high eight sacks.

He saw little playing time early in the season. But after Jared Allen was traded to the Panthers and McPhee was injured, Houston took advantage of expanded reps. After playing only four snaps in a loss to the Vikings, he compiled 28 tackles, five sacks and six tackles-for-loss during a six-game stretch.

The hot streak began in a Monday night win over the Chargers when Houston sacked Philip Rivers on back-to-back snaps on San Diego's final drive to help ice a 22-19 victory.

Houston's seven sacks over the final nine weeks of the season were tied for sixth most in the NFL. He helped the Bears record 20 sacks in their last seven games, tied for seventh in the league.

Young followed a similar path, bouncing back from a torn Achilles' tendon in 2014 and switching from defensive end to outside linebacker, compiling 6.5 sacks. Young became the third player in Bears history with at least one sack in five straight games in Weeks 11-15, joining Brian Urlacher and Steve McMichael.

Acho also contributed last year, compiling 60 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

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