GoldenBearReport - Spring Gradeout: Inside Linebacker
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Spring Gradeout: Inside Linebacker

Continuing the series of spring gradeouts, this time looking at the inside linebacker position.

Previous Spring Gradeouts: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | OLB

Devante Downs and Jordan Kunaszyk will play a solid role in the middle of the defense
Devante Downs and Jordan Kunaszyk will play a solid role in the middle of the defense (Kelley L. Cox - USA Today)

What We Learned: Same Group, More Straight Ahead

The group coached by defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is essentially the same group that manned the linebacker positions a year ago, minus Cameron Goode, who got bumped outside. Ray Davison and Devante Downs look like the presumptive starters. Jordan Kunaszyk, Hamilton Anoa'i and Aisea Tongilava return to back them up, and Washington transfer Gerran Brown added in to provide depth. The linebacker group struggled last year, but Anoa'i summed up why the problems of a year ago may not be the same issue in the year upcoming:

"I think what makes it a lot easier is that in this defense," Anoa'i noted, "you're closed down in a space as a linebacker, as compared to our last defense, where you're running basically sideline to sideline a lot. But in this defense you're kinda just worried about your little area and it's either here or there rather than in a 4-3 where we were always running around. I like that a lot better that we've just got a little less responsibility and we can focus on just being ourselves."

Not having to play sideline to sideline should help the inside backers, where their main responsibility in the 3-4 will be to clean up in the box, which they can do.

Biggest Spring Concern: Blitz timing isn't completely there yet

One piece of the DeRuyter defense that the Bears worked on during the spring involved throwing blitzes from almost every direction. This isn't too big of an issue, as Downs is at his best as a blitzer, taking advantage of his explosive capabilities off the snap. During the spring game, while not much complexity was expected, the blitzes from the middle linebacker spot didn't produce much. It should get there, timing on these blitzes takes time, but it wasn't entirely there by the end of the spring.

Captain Ray Davison Returns to lead the defense
Captain Ray Davison Returns to lead the defense (Richard Mackson - USA Today Sports)

Spring Surprise: How well this group can play downhill

Being able to play downhill in the box has its benefits, and it has allowed the linebackers to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The quickness at which that change happened was the biggest surprise, as the emphasis on getting through the hole on running through the tackle, which was ingrained with a number of tackling drills using what can be described as onion ring-like rolling pads. Davison in particular looked quicker in getting through the hole to make plays in the backfield. Brown also held his own.

Looking Forward: Senior-heavy group will need replacing

It's an experienced group here, as Downs, Davison, and Anoa'i are all seniors and should be able to keep a steady hand on the defense as they continue to adjust to the 3-4, but after that, only three members of the ILBs remain and there's a need to replace those three. The lure of early playing time (or at least within the next two years, as the inside linebacker spot will completely turn over within that time), should be a pitch worth making.