By Jonathan Okanes
Sunday, March 8th, 2009 at 8:39 pm in off-season stuff.
RETURNING STARTERS: Eddie Young, Mike Mohamed
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Mychal Kendricks
POSSIBLE SURPRISE: J.P. Hurrell
THE BREAKDOWN: Other than quarterback, no position will be followed more closely during spring practice than linebacker. The Bears have lost the experience and talent of Zack Follett, Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams, and replacing that trio will be no easy task. But defensive coordinator Bob Gregory seems confident that his corps of young linebackers are ready to step in and keep the position as a strength of the defense.
On paper, Eddie Young is the only returning starter. But Mike Mohamed, who played all four linebacker positions last season, actually got more playing time than anyone. Gregory said Mohamed will focus solely on playing the weakside inside position this season.
Assuming Young keeps his job as the starting outside linebacker on the strongside, that leaves two spots open for Mychal Kendricks, Devin Bishop and D.J. Holt to fight over this spring. While there are some other younger players in the program, Gregory said Mohamed, Young, Kendricks, Bishop and Holt “will be the guys” who play this season. That’s just players participating this spring Gregory said junior college transfer Ryan Davis could be in the mix when he arrives in the fall.
Kendricks played in all 13 games last season while Bishop and Holt played in 12, so it’s not like they are starting new. But the stakes obviously are higher now as the former backups try to use the spring to position themselves for starting spots this fall.
“We’re fortunate that we had a lot of guys play last year,” Gregory said. “Now they just need more reps and coaching to bring them along. I don’t think there is going to be a dropoff at all. Obviously, experience will factor into it a little.”
Gregory said Robert Mullins, J.P. Hurrell and Solomona Aigamaua will compete to provide depth. Mullins made five tackles on special teams last season while Aigamaua was hurt. Hurrell was a grayshirt.
“We need to get our numbers up at linebacker,” Gregory said. “We’re not quite where we need to be in overall depth.”