His rookie season of 2013 wasn’t easy for Jonathan Bostic, forced into the role of No. 1 middle linebacker in an injury riddled defense, trying to learn the NFL and his own defense at the same time. If his thinking was more than a little scrambled from time to time, that was understandable.
This year the injuries aren’t there, and Bostic is playing all three linebacker spots. The changes have him thinking backwards and talking to himself. Which is not a bad thing.
“For me what’s been helping is just getting over there and doing all those different things,” said Bostic, who is competing with Shea McClellin for one outside-linebacker spot while being tasked with intimately learning the other two. “I have to think backwards, as if from the Mike (middle linebacker) perspective. I can tell a Sam exactly what to do, for instance. So I think of myself in a sense telling myself what to do.”
It’s probably OK in the NFL if you’re hearing voices, as long as they’re mostly your defensive coordinator, position coach and veteran teammates. Bostic isn’t ready to call himself a veteran after just nine starts, but his immediate goal is to think like a veteran.
“Even with James (Anderson) there last year, I would think, ‘What would he do in this situation? How would he handle this route?’” Bostic said. “I’m still making mistakes, but I’m learning from those mistakes.”
(Presumably Bostic learned to pick up loose footballs from seeing Anderson not do that in the Green Bay game, but Anderson wasn’t the only one who made that mistake, either.)
Bostic was dropped into the center of a defensive maelstrom last year, a rookie thrust in as the starting middle linebacker with the No. 1 unit after a calf injury took down D.J. Williams early in training camp. Bostic made some mistakes, some plays. But on the plus side, the defense also allowed an average of 53 rushing yards in the three first halves with the No. 1 defensive line, with three-techniques Nate Collins or Henry Melton or both on the field for at least a portion of the first half.
Williams returned for the regular season but only six games of it before a chest injury ended his year and catapulted Bostic back into the middle. By then, Collins and Melton were down with knee injuries, Lance Briggs was a week away from missing seven games with his shoulder injury and the defensive free fall was starting.
“For me, last year there was some unorthodox stuff we were doing, things I’d never done in the past,” Bostic said. “This year we’ve stepped away from some of those things and it’s made it a lot more natural for me, and it’s made the defense a lot easier to understand.”
For various reasons, Bostic has not attracted the scrutiny McClellin has so far. But Bostic was a second-round draft choice for a reason and is a projected starter in the Bears’ future, and coaches are looking now at not what he did wrong in 2013 but how can that translate to an impact player in 2014 and beyond. At more than just Bostic’s position.
“A guy like Jon Bostic, we’re building on some of his experience from a year ago that we think is going to help him moving more,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “And there’s other guys in that same category. So there’s some newness, and that’s why we have the offseason program, the coaching sessions, the OTAs, the mini camps and we’ll take it into training camp to build the identity for this group in 2014.”