Common thought would suggest that when only two linebackers are required on the field half the time that this sort of a risk is acceptable, however; “nickel-backers” verses traditional 3-4 linebackers involve specific skillsets as well as physical make-ups.
Sep 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett (83) dives for and misses a pass with Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) defending during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Notably, while Rey Maualuga and James Harrison are starters, they aren’t on the field when the nickel package lines up, and rightfully so. Harrison is specifically an accent to the pass rush, run defense, and locker room, and while Maualuga has been excellent thus far in lateral defensive effort, but unfortunately remains a liability against slot receivers’ and tight ends’ crossing routes until he proves otherwise. The uniqueness of the “nickel-backer” is further highlighted not only by the utilization of Lamur to an all-but-in-name starter from an undrafted converted safety, something that interestingly enough is being attempted ad-hoc with strong safety Taylor Mays. Looking at player personnel from this regard, Burfict more or less serves as the center piece as both defensive packages, which makes him essentially two linebackers instead of one.
Though Burfict may be distinctive in that regard, but he is hardly any more irreplaceable than the other linebackers on this current roster. Vincent Rey and rookie Jayson DiManche are versatile, but Rey remains more of a special teams’ player, and DiManche is still maturing. Debatably practice squad linebacker, JK Schaffer, makes this situation less wanton, however; should it come to that, the caliber of the linebacking corps willd have already suffered an undeniable drop off.