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Injured linebacker D.J. Williams leaves Bears with hole in the middle

Bears' D.J. Williams (58) during training camp Friday morning Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

Bears' D.J. Williams (58) during training camp Friday morning in Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 3, 2013 7:16AM



BOURBONNAIS — We knew the linebacking corps would be a huge story line in training camp. On Wednesday, it was guaranteed in the Bears’ first practice after their first day off of the preseason.

Before the 5,000-plus fans surrounding the practice fields could settle into their seats, D.J. Williams went down in a heap and was carted off the field with a bruised calf.

Unlike left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who also injured his calf and is day-to-day, Williams has been designated as week-to-week.

The difference isn’t subtle. Calf injuries can be extremely finicky, and while day-to-day is exactly that, week-to-week can easily turn into three to six weeks if nothing is torn. If there’s a tear, we’re talking months.

We’ll wait for more and better information on the extent of the damage. But until further notice, rookie Jon Bostic is the Bears’ starting middle linebacker. Journeyman special-teams ace Blake Costanzo is behind him on the depth chart, and behind Costanzo there’s no one.

Lack of depth is a problem almost everywhere thanks mainly to a decade of failure in the draft by Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and Co. The ascension of Bostic to the focal point of this defense might turn out to be chicken salad or it could result in a real chicken’s mess.

Coach Marc Trestman apparently likes chicken salad. His take on Williams’ misfortune: “D.J.’s going to be week-to-week, but he’s been great since he got here, and he’ll get back as soon as he can. This is a great opportunity for the young guys.”

I can’t argue with that assessment, but are the young guys ready? Bostic and fourth-round draft choice Khaseem Greene were taken to be the future at linebacker.

Both played middle linebacker in college, but they might be best-suited to eventually succeed Lance Briggs on the weak side. Greene is being trained there while Bostic is the next man up in the middle.

Bostic actually has looked pretty good in practice, showing nice instincts and explosion, and he seems to have assimilated (I speak Trestman-ese whenever I can) what defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is teaching.

Greene appears lost and is struggling a bit. But as long as Briggs stays healthy, he’ll have the benefit of time to learn. Bostic has to be ready now.

The upside is, if general manager Phil Emery chose wisely with Bostic, his learning curve is being accelerated, and he could seize the starting middle linebacker spot. Williams is a 10-year veteran on a one-year deal. Bostic is Bears property for at least the next four years.

The downside is, even if Bostic is the real deal, rushing young players into live fire before they’re ready has set even the best of them back significantly if they struggle.

Add the fact that middle linebacker is where every veteran on this defense has looked for help over the last 13 years, and the pressure on Bostic couldn’t be greater.

This is the first real challenge for the Trestman regime. How he and his players respond should tell us a great deal about what lies ahead.

Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.



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