Bears Position Preview: Outside Linebacker

Khalil Mack had 12.5 sacks last season and leads a fierce Bears pass rush.

Chris Emma
July 19, 2019 - 12:12 pm

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

(670 The Score) The sudden arrival of star pass rusher Khalil Mack helped elevate the Bears' defense to a new level of dominance in 2018.

General manager Ryan Pace knew that a player of Mack's caliber was worth the steep price in a trade with the Raiders and a record-setting contract because of the way he helps elevate the other 10 players' performance. That proved to be true, as Chicago ranked first in scoring defense at 17.7 points per game.

The position of outside linebacker became an immediate strength with the arrival of Mack, but the group also benefited from a 16-game regular season for Leonard Floyd and steady production from veteran Aaron Lynch.

The Bears enter this new season with the hopes of continued tenacious play from their edge rushers.

Depth chart

Khalil Mack, 28

Last Sept. 1, the Bears traded two first-round picks as part of the package to acquire Mack, then signed him to a record six-year, $141-million contract for a defensive player. It was all worthwhile as Mack produced All-Pro play with 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception in 14 regular-season games.

Leonard Floyd, 26

The Bears' first-round pick in 2016, Floyd played in all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2018. Though he was limited during September due to a right hand fracture, Floyd saw his production rise at the end of the season, including two sacks in the Bears' division-clinching win over the Packers in December.

Aaron Lynch, 26

Signed to a one-year deal last year, Lynch showed the Bears that he could be productive as he posted three sacks in 13 regular-season games. Lynch has now returned to Chicago on another one-year deal, retained as veteran depth at outside linebacker.

Isaiah Irving, 25

An undrafted free-agent addition in 2017, Irving has the kind of potential that has the Bears believing he can be a part of their regular rotation at outside linebacker. If healthy, Irving will have the chance to prove himself.

Kylie Fitts, 24

The Bears saw upside in Fitts when they selected him the sixth round of the 2018 draft. Last season then became a redshirt year for Fitts, who will get the opportunity to compete for a role entering camp.

Depth: Matt Betts, 24; Chuck Harris, 21; James Vaughters, 26

Position coach: Ted Monachino

A coaching veteran of 23 years, Monachino arrives to the Bears with a wealth of knowledge and a familiarity in working with new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

How they got here

At this time a year ago, the Bears were looking at their outside linebacker position with great uncertainty. Acquiring Mack seemed like a pipe dream last July, Lynch was injured on the first weekend of training camp and Floyd hadn't produced a healthy season.

Everything turned out about as well as possible for the Bears, who pulled off the blockbuster for Mack a week ahead of the regular-season opener. Their belief in Lynch was rewarded, and Floyd found good form after his hand injury healed.

The Bears enter this training camp with Mack, Floyd and Lynch atop their depth chart and opportunities awaiting depth pieces like Irving and Fitts.

Key storyline: Will Floyd secure his future?

Now entering his fourth NFL season, Floyd still remains a bit of a mystery. This year will be another opportunity to prove his worth.

The Bears tendered Floyd his fifth-year option for the 2020 season, but their hope is for him to showcase enough that he earns a long-term contract. Floyd has 15.5 sacks in 38 regular-season games across three seasons. 

Floyd has been hampered during his time in Chicago by several different injuries, including the hand fracture in 2018, a knee injury in 2017 and multiple concussions as a rookie in 2016.

At this point, the Bears are wondering what Floyd could be with good health for a full season -- and if his injury history is simply bad fortunes or a troubling trend.

Playing alongside Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan should provide Floyd the chance to make his potential a reality. That's how the Bears envision this upcoming season for Floyd.

His long-term future is at stake.

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