Bears could let rookie linebackers start early

Bears could let rookie linebackers start early

May 11, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Brian Urlacher was the Bears’ starting middle linebacker as a rookie, albeit not until the third game of the season. Lance Briggs became a starter in game four of his rookie year at outside linebacker, although at the strong side before moving to the weakside in Lovie Smith’s first year (2004)

Mike Singletary started the last nine games of his rookie (1981) season, like Urlacher, winning a spectrum of rookie honors.

Despite veterans staffing all three linebacker spots at this point, coaches are not ruling out a similar career path for 2013 linebacker draft picks Jon Bostic (second round) and Khaseem Greene (fourth).

“It’s an open competition across the board in our system and we’re not going to pre-determine what a guy can or can’t do,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said on Saturday, “so we’ll see.”

Briggs, Singletary and Urlacher all had the “advantage” of being drafted onto bad teams. The Bears chose Briggs in the 2003 third round after a 4-12 mark in 2002. Singletary was the second-round pick of a Bears team coming off a 7-9 year. And the Bears “earned” their No. 9-overall pick of Urlacher in 2000 by finishing 6-10 in Dick Jauron’s first year.

Fourth-round 1999 picks Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman were slow starters as rookies, Holdman starting just the final five games and Colvin working primarily as a nickel pass rusher.

Besides Briggs, the Bears signed veterans D.J. Williams for the middle and James Anderson for the strongside.

But Anderson and Williams were signed to one-year deals and ultimately, based on signing bonuses and first-year salaries, the team has more invested in both Bostic and Greene for 2013, not to mention three more years beyond this one.

Neither Bostic nor Greene is making predictions about breakout rookie years for themselves, however.

“I’m just planning on coming in here and competing, learning as much as I can,” Greene said. “I can’t control whether or not I’m starting. All I can control is the impression I make with the coaches.”

“I think in the league it’s possible for a rookie to start. It all depends on the situation.”

The last Florida linebacker drafted by the Bears – Wilber Marshall, 1984, 11th overall – started just one game as a rookie, in large part because he was coming into a starting group of Singletary, Otis Wilson and Al Harris. Bostic is coming of an arguably even stronger SEC and Gator program but understands that neither are the NFL.

“You’re playing that SEC, just like what we’re going to see on an everyday basis,” Bostic said. “It’s a level none of us have every really played at so it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment and we’re all excited about it.”

And the Bears are excited about what will start playing out when vets and rookies start working on the same field. As far as a rookie starting:

“It’s a case-by-case deal; you just have to wait and see,” Tucker said. “Our job is to get the best players on the field. We’ll see how it works out, but you never want to paint a guy in a box.”

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