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A Future Roquan Smith Sidekick?

Reported Bears interest at inside linebacker in predraft shows they're thinking of the future at this vital position

Lists of players visiting with teams in the run up to the NFL Draft rarely provide real insight into who exactly will be drafted.

They're more of a map than a specific path.

Teams have to do their due diligence simply to know who these players are and it's better to be prepared for whoever might fall into your lap on draft day.

Still, it's rather curious when a team visits extensively with players at one particular positon because it might say something about where they see themselves headed in the future at those spots. It's happening at inside linebacker with the Bears.

Their visits so far, according to BearReport, Walterfootball.com and also pro day interviews done by players, indicate they've had a talk with Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton, North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surrat and South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones.

If you didn't know better, you'd have to deduce the Bears are preparing for the possibility of replacing Danny Trevathan at some point.

It's most likely not this season because Trevathan's departure would cost the Bears too much in salary cap loss. His deal essentially expires after 2022 because the three years on the end are dummy years put there to prorate his signing bonus. And if he's cut after 2022 the Bears will still have $6.49 million of dead cap space on the books from the deal, according to Overthecap.com.

You never know what happens in a draft, though. If a player fell to them they really liked, it might hasten a departure if this player turned out to be someone special when training camp and preseason started.

Trevathan has been an emotional, physical leader for five seasons and he plays the game with great energy and violence. It sometimes has led to injuries. He has played full schedules only three of his nine seasons, and two of his five Bears seasons.

Trevathan is coming off what Pro Football Focus has called his worst season. He had a career-low grade of 39.9 on the year, 76th among 83 inside linebackers graded by PFF. It was coming after what had been his lowest-graded Bears season. The trend doesn't look good.

When the Bears had Nick Kwiatkoski, they had an ideal setup. They had a good third inside linebacker option. They have apparently addressed this need with Christian Jones returning as a free agent, but if they thought so much of Jones then they wouldn't have let him get away originally to Detroit as a free agent.

So it wouldn't be a stunner if the Bears looked at inside linebacker in this draft. They also could have been getting prepared in case they were to trade Roquan Smith for a quarterback. Of course, this hasn't materialized ... yet.

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NFL Draft Bible's scouting report on Bolton is almost spooky.

"Just how good is Bolton?" the report starts out. "Imagine Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan with more thump."

The three inside linebackers the Bears have focused on so far:

Nick Bolton, Missouri

It's easy to see why the comparison was made to Trevathan. Bolton is only 5-foot-11 1/2 and Trevathan 6-foot. They're more like Sam Mills types at inside linebacker, but the lack of height can be compensated for and both seem to do it. Also, Bolton is roughly the same weight Trevathan was coming out of college at 232. At Missouri, Bolton has made four sacks, 17 1/2 tackles for loss and 220 tackles. Despite his lack of height, he hasn't been a liability in pass coverage with 12 passes defensed and two interceptions. NFL Draft Bible projects him as a first-round pick but it might need to be a specific defense and team for this to happen. Otherwise, he might be a second-round pick. One particular aspect of Bolton's play speaks to his ability to be an inside linebacker. "His instincts are fantastic," NFL Draft Bible says.

Chazz Surratt, North Carolina

Undersized only in terms of weight at 227, the 6-1 1/2 Surratt has surprised with an ability to get through gaps and make plays while being more physical than one might expect from a player who isn't 235-240 pounds. He was given a second-round status by NFL Draft Bible. There's another reason Surratt's abilities are startling. He started out as a quarterback at North Carolina and made the unlikely switch to defense after a wrist injury cost him his 2018 season. So, it's easy to see why at this point he'd still have missed tackles. In two seasons of play, he was enough of an athlete to make the conversiona and continues to learn while making 206 tackles, including 22 1/2 for loss. He had 12 1/2 sacks in his two seasons after the switch, as well.

Ernest Jones, South Carolina

A possible Day 3 pick , NFL Draft Bible calls Jones an underappreciated type but then fixes a sixth-round grade to him. Jones has shown instincts to be ranked with or even above many better inside linebackers, but hasn't shown the physical explosiveness others have at the position. There scouting report noted how often he's around the football. He has been effective enough to make 199 tackles, including 10 1/2 for loss, and two sacks with five pass breakups and two interceptions. At 6-2, 230, size is less a problem with him than with some other inside linebackers.

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