Tremaine Edmunds

Bears linebacker unit No. 2 in NFL, per PFF

The Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards free agent signings went a long way to improving the unit

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The Bears defense was one of the worst in the NFL last year. It didn’t matter if the team was trying to stop the run or the pass, generally they were ineffective. Even with so much spotlight on Justin Fields and the passing offense, the team made it a clear priority to improve the middle of their defense in free agency by signing both Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

The duo give the Bears a completely new look, and national media have taken notice. On Tuesday, PFF ranked the Bears’ linebacker corps as the No. 2 unit in the NFL.

“Tremaine Edmunds arrives from Buffalo after a long-awaited breakout that saw massive increases in his overall (81.9) and coverage (90.0) grades,” wrote Dalton Wasserman for PFF. “The latter mark, along with his 10 pass breakups, led all qualified linebackers.

“T.J. Edwards comes with less fanfare but was the unsung hero of the Eagles’ elite defense. He played nearly 1,200 snaps and graded above 78.0 against the run, in coverage and as a pass-rusher, which added up to the sixth-best overall grade (81.6) at the position.”

High praise like that is a far cry from what the Bears earned towards the end of the 2022 season. The Roquan Smith trade left the Bears without an anchor in the middle. Jack Sanborn availed himself of the opportunity and racked up tackles when given the chance. Sanborn got hurt in Week 15, and the Bears were left with a starting unit of Nick Morrow, Matt Adams and Joe Thomas. Morrow and Adams never lived up to their free agent billing and Thomas was largely a special teams contributor who was pressed into duty because of the vacancies left by Smith and Sanborn.

PFF noted Sanborn’s success as an undrafted free agent rookie in their assessment of the linebacker room, but there’s a chance Sanborn is replaced too. He wasn’t able to practice at all when media were present at OTAs and veteran minicamp, as he continues to recover from his ankle injury. Meanwhile, 2023 fifth-round draft pick Noah Sewell has had the opportunity to show coaches what he can do with the extra reps. Sewell has flashed some of the ability that convinced the Bears, like putting himself in position to make splash plays. If he continues to develop and Sanborn stays on the sideline when training camp begins next month, Sewell could take over the starting SAM job, which would give the Bears an entirely new linebacker lineup.

Considering how things went last year, that might be a very good thing.

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