Mullin: Bears best-ever linebackers Thursday, June 2, 2011 Posted:
2:54 p.m. By John Mullin CSNChicago.com Fourth in a series looking at the top Bears in the history of the franchise at each position. In this installment, CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John Mullin gets takes a look at linebacker.
The middle linebacker position is generally considered to have originated in Chicago. Over the span of two seasons (1985-86), all three starting linebackers were selected to Pro Bowls. Over the past seven seasons at least one Bears linebacker was voted to the Pro Bowl and twice two of them were selected in the same year.
Five Bears linebackers already are in the Hall of Fame.
But which members of a truly august group with its distinguished history belong at the apex of the pyramid?
With the NFL on indefinite break and the Bulls finished working on fast breaks, theirs and the Miami Heat’s, CSNChicago.com’s “View from the Moon” is taking this opportunity to bring unprecedented clarity to the Chicago Bears’ past, with some “present” folded in. Rather than undertake another analysis of the 2011 roster, which necessarily remains in a molten state pending yet-uncertain free agency, training camp and preseason, “View” will establish the franchise depth chart position by position.
Specifically, who are the three greatest Bears of all time at each of the positions, plus special teams? Honorable mention: Bill George
The times don’t do George justice; it is too easy to dismiss too many players of his era as plodders in a different game. But George was physically ferocious enough to be a nose guard before “creating” the middle linebacker position by going to a two-point stance off the line, and you don’t amass 18 career interceptions being just a knuckle-dragger. Mike Singletary
Another Hall of Fame fixture in a time of legendary success for his team. Ten straight Pro Bowls, and few players in any era were the consummate student of his craft the way Singletary was. It may not be fair but what keeps Samurai out of the super-elite is the fact that he was the beneficiary of playing behind Richard Dent and Dan Hampton, two Hall of Famers, and Steve McMichael as well as William Perry, and between Wilbur Marshall (a candidate for Honorable Mention had he played longer in Chicago. And he was not the all-around defender that the select few above him were. 3. (tie) Lance Briggs, George Connor
By far the most difficult choice in all of this, because the conclusion is that both Briggs and Connor are/were better linebackers than either Bill George or Mike Singletary. But the fact is:
Both played at about 240 pounds, were mamba-quick outside ‘backers who have been Pro Bowl fixtures. Connor was 6-3 to Briggs’ 6-1 and may have been even more dominant in his time had he not also doubled as an offensive tackle (also at Pro Bowl levels). In one well-documented series during the 1952 Pro Bowl, Connor stopped running plays on the first two downs, sacked Otto Graham on third down, and in coverage broke up a pass to Dante Lavelli on fourth.
Briggs is one of the great playmakers ever in a Bears uniform in any era. Like Connor, he is pass-rush threat and possessed of such speed and athleticism that he has been the Bears’ sixth defensive back in “dime” packages with one of the better defenses of the past decade. Coaches privately told CSNChicago.com that they were in awe of Briggs’ 2010 season when they went back over film and truly could see all he was doing all over the field. 2. Brian Urlacher
Do you really understand how seriously good this guy is?
Forget the 6-4, 260 pounds running 4.5’s in 40’s. Forget the Pro Bowls. Forget running Brett Favre andDaunte Culpepper down from behind.
In 2001 Urlacher was ensconced behind mastodons Brian Robinson, Phillip Daniels, Keith Traylor and Ted Washington, a designer defensive line for a two-gap scheme. Urlacher’s year: 148 tackles. 6 sacks. 3 interceptions.
In 2002 Washington was hurt most of the year. Daniels and others were hurt. Urlacher didn’t have his protectors in a “broken” two-gap scheme. His year: 214 tackles. 4-1/2 sacks. Seven passes broken up.
In 2005 Urlacher was now in a one-gap scheme, one that wasn’t his favorite, with a gap of his own to account for and playing behind relative runts in 260-pound ends Alex Brown
and Adewale Ogunleye, plus sub-295-pound Tommie Harris, Urlacher’s season: 171 tackles. 6 sacks. 5 passes broken up.
Pick a scheme or situation. Urlacher was dominant in it. Pick the best Bears linebacker of all time? There’s only one who compares. 1. Dick Butkus
The only thing better than Butkus’ achievements may be some of the stories. In this case, the reality is in fact greater than the myth.
Butkus at 6-3, 245 pounds was his era’s Ray Lewis
and better than Lewis in pass coverage and arguably as a blitzer; he had 18 sacks in 1967, years before that stat was kept officially, and that was a 14-game season. He led the Bears with five interceptions as a rookie and is third in NFL history with 25 fumble recoveries, meaning he wasn’t just blowing people up: He was getting the football.
Besides, the clincher for defining “tough”:
If you remember “Rocky,” Balboa had a dog, I think some sort of mastiff knock-off, named…