Bears Position Preview: Inside Linebacker

The Bears return Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan as their starting duo.

Chris Emma
July 23, 2019 - 10:21 am

Leading up to the start of Bears training camp in late July, we're running a series of positional outlooks. This is the eighth installment. You can read all of them here.

(670 The Score) The first snap of Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith's NFL career produced a sack of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, quickly establishing hopes for the first-round pick a year ago.

Smith proved to be everything the Bears had hoped last season, showing readiness from his first snap and improving as the season went on. He and veteran Danny Trevathan coalesced to form a terrific tandem at inside linebacker and a key component of the Bears' top-ranked scoring defense in 2018.

Now, Smith and Trevathan have a full year under their belt and carry high hopes in this Chicago defense.

Projected depth chart

Roquan Smith, 22

Smith posted 114 tackles and five sacks while playing in every game in a stellar rookie season. His comfort in the defense became clear, but now come some new twists under the direction of new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

Danny Trevathan, 29

An eight-year NFL veteran, Trevathan produced his first 16-game regular season in a Bears uniform in 2018, proving to be productive and an excellent leader for the defense. Trevathan is entering a contract season in 2019.

Nick Kwiatkoski, 26

A starter in 14 games over three seasons, Kwiatkoski lost his place to the rookie Smith last season. He had 14 tackles over a full season while stepping into a special teams role.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe, 23

The Bears were sold on Iyiegbuniwe's raw talents when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, and they quickly moved him into special teams. He had three tackles in a special teams role.

Depth: Jameer Thurman, 24; Josh Woods, 23; Kevin Pierre-Louis, 27

Position coach: Mark DeLeone

The Pagano-led defensive coaching staff includes another addition from the Chiefs in DeLeone, who worked alongside Matt Nagy for five years in Kansas City. He has now arrived in Chicago for a first season coaching Smith, Trevathan and the Bears' inside linebackers.

How they got here

The Bears batted .500 with their pair of inside linebacker free-agent signings in Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman prior to the 2016 season. Trevathan flashed when healthy but struggled to stay on the field.

Freeman was released by the Bears in early 2018, opening up a starting spot with Smith already high on Chicago's draft board. There was great excitement inside Halas Hall when the Bears made Smith the eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft.

The Smith-Trevathan tandem was just what the Bears envisioned, with each playing in all 16 regular-season games and proving to be a key part of a defense rising to the top of the league.

The Bears also established quality depth with the third-year linebacker Kwiatkoski and rookie Iyiegbuniwe. 

Key storyline: Will Trevathan earn a second contract in Chicago?

As the Bears begin to award second contracts to their homegrown players, will there be a second contract for the 29-year-old Trevathan?

Before the Bears can answer that question, they first must assess the other variables in play.

Center Cody Whitehair could be due for a contract extension in the coming months, and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd will have the opportunity to earn a new deal. All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson and versatile Pro Bowl piece Tarik Cohen are a year away from contract extension talks. Meanwhile, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky may ultimately earn one of the massive deals that his peers are receiving.

Perhaps Trevathan could land back with the Bears on a short-term contract of one or two seasons, but that may be up to a player like Iyiegbuniwe to decide with his growth and development. Bears general manager Ryan Pace has some important evaluations to make at inside linebacker this season.

With Trevathan turning 30 next March, it's worth noting the Bears have only eight players on their 90-man roster 30 years or older.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.