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Position focus on Bears linebackers

In the seventh of a nine-part series, takes an in-depth look at the Bears' linebackers heading into the 2016 offseason.

With the Bears employing a 3-4 defense for the first time in franchise history in 2015, three outside linebackers were the unit's top playmakers.

Lamarr Houston recorded a career-high eight sacks, while Willie Young registered 6.5 and Pernell McPhee added six. Only four other NFL teams—the Dolphins, Patriots, Eagles and Redskins—had three players with at least six sacks last season.

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.


Pernell McPhee recorded seven tackles-for-loss in the first seven games of the season.

He saw little playing time early in the season. But after Jared Allen was traded to the Panthers and McPhee suffered a knee injury, 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 from Nov. 9-Dec. 13.

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. 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.

McPhee's production tailed off during the second half of the season when he was limited by a knee injury. But the free-agent acquisition proved to be everything and more than the Bears expected when he recorded five sacks, 42 tackles and seven tackles-for-loss in the first seven games of the season.

Sam Acho also contributed at outside linebacker, compiling 60 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

The Bears didn't get as many impact plays from their inside linebackers in 2015, though Christian Jones and Shea McClellin finished second and third on the team in tackles with 98 and 96, respectively. Neither player recorded a sack or an interception.

A 2012 first-round draft pick, McClellin lined up at his third position in 2015 after playing defensive end and outside linebacker in his first three seasons with the Bears. Like Acho, McClellin is due to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

Undrafted rookie John Timu provided a boost at inside linebacker late last season, recording 25 tackles and two fumble recoveries while starting the final three games. Timu had appeared in the first four contests on special teams before spending 10 weeks on the practice squad.

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