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Another Bears Conversion May Pay Off at Linebacker

Josh Woods gave an indication last preseason he could make the conversion from safety to inside linebacker after adding 32 pounds, and now he's trying to move up into Nick Kwiatkoski's old role.

There are plenty of examples of conversion projections paying off in Chicago Bears history, two of the greatest classics being Mark Bortz and James "Big Cat" Williams.

In each case they merely went to the other side of the line of scrimmage to learn how to play and didn't have to put up with some of the drastic physical alterations required to play other positions.

Josh Woods can tell them something about this. 

Woods wasn't quite the caterpillar emerging as a butterfly, but is entering a critical year in his conversion from a college safety at Maryland to a Bears linebacker. It's a switch which required he put on 32 pounds to make.  

The Bears asked Roy Robertson-Harris to add around 35 pounds when he came to the NFL from UTEP, and then took a little while to develop him from a linebacker to an effective interior defensive lineman.  They asked tight end Jesper Horsted to put on around 30 pounds and converted him from a wide receiver at Princeton to tight end. 

At least in the case of guard Rashaad Coward, the position switch didn't require strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo and dietitian Jennifer Gibson to work a miracle. They started Coward last year after he switched from the defensive line to offensive tackle, and then guard. So it didn't require a big change in weight. 

The problem with Woods playing linebacker besides the weight was he hadn't really even been a college starter at defensive back until his senior year, and then he was playing as sort of a box safety or small linebacker. He made 45 tackles as a senior and finished his career with six passes defensed at Maryland before the Bears switched him.

So he needed time. 

Making it into training camp was no easy matter for Woods, who went undrafted and didn't even get an undrafted free agent offer.

He had to come to the Bears' rookie minicamp in 2018 as one of the tryout invitees during practices that included 15 undrafted free agents and the team's seven draft picks. Woods was one of two players who were asked to come back for organized team activities and training camp.

That accomplished, Woods got cut but spent his first season on the practice squad, so the Bears never really saw him play after preseason. He made only three tackles in preseason games in 2018 as he was still trying to figure out the role of linebacker and add playing weight.

Last year after achieving the right weight and learning more, there was a huge jump in Woods' effectiveness. Those not paying close attention would have failed to notice. 

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In 2019 preseason Woods not only led the Bears in tackles, but had 22 of them. It was seven more than anyone else on the team.

It helped them decide to keep him for the 53-man roster and give him special teams duties if he was active on game day. He made it to game day nine times and had five special teams tackles.

So without a defensive snap to his name yet, and 148 total special teams plays, Woods is trying to make the next big step of showing he can depended upon as a replacement for Roquan Smith or Danny Trevathan by earning a spot ahead of Devante Bond and Joel Iyiegbuniwe.

He's come so far already, the next step hardly seems like the easy part.

Josh Woods at a Glance

Maryland  ILB

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 236

Key Stat: Of the 22 tackles made last preseason by Josh Woods, 19 of them were solo tackles.

Roster Chances: 3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most.

 2020 Projection: 8 special teams tackles, 20 total tackles.

 Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven