Jon Bostic stuck in middle of Bears’ depleted defense
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter October 15, 2013 9:39PM
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The notion of Jon Bostic starting at middle linebacker was a little more exciting in August, when the Bears’ defense was fully stocked with veteran playmakers who could give the kid a little margin for error.
‘‘The kid has speed. He has size. He has talent,’’ former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone said. ‘‘You can overcome a lot of mistakes with talent. He’s going to make mistakes. But he’ll make them going full-speed ahead.’’
But all bets are off now. With his speed, size and innate ability to deliver impact hits, Bostic still could flourish as the replacement for injured veteran D.J. Williams. But the Bears might have lost the cushion that would allow a talent such as Bostic to learn on the fly. They have a dearth of healthy defensive tackles. Charles Tillman has knee and groin issues. Julius Peppers is not playing at his normal Pro Bowl level. It could put Bostic on the spot early.
‘‘A lot of times your middle linebacker is only as good as your two defensive tackles,’’ said Buffone, who played 14 seasons for the Bears. ‘‘If they’re going to let guys get shots on him — a 300-pound guard with a guy behind him — there’s not a linebacker alive who can take on that type of block.’’
Therein lies the challenge for Bostic, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and coach Marc Trestman as Bostic prepares for his first NFL start Sunday against the Redskins. Can the Bears put Bostic in a position to succeed?
In fact, the Bostic experience could be a litmus test for the Bears from top to bottom as they look for sustained post-Jerry Angelo/Lovie Smith success: Can general manager Phil Emery draft future playmakers on defense? Can Tucker and his staff develop talented players? Can Bostic learn from his mistakes and improve with experience?
Bostic, a second-round pick from Florida, will be the third Emery-drafted player to start on defense. Defensive end Shea McClellin was the first. Nickel back Isaiah Frey was the second. Talk about the jury being out.
It might be painful to watch at first. Even when Bostic was making big plays in the preseason, he made his share of mistakes. Those mistakes will be more costly now. Can the Bears cover for him on either side of the ball?
If he follows Lance Briggs’ learning curve from his rookie season of 2003, he’ll surely take it. Briggs had one tackle in his first start against the Oakland Raiders. He broke up a pass the next week, had seven tackles the week after that, then eight, 10 and 12. By December, he had a 45-yard interception return against Brett Favre. Briggs had four of his five tackles for loss in the final month and was well on his way toward seven consecutive Pro Bowl berths.
Buffone remembers when he was in Bostic’s shoes as a rookie in 1966. An injury to five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Fortunato against the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 10 put Buffone in the game.
‘‘I go running into the huddle,’’ Buffone said. ‘‘Ten guys look up at me, and [Ed] O’Bradovich says, ‘Do you know what the [expletive] you’re doing?’ I said, ‘I think so.’ ’’
As it turned out, he did. It helped that he learned well.
‘‘I was a student of the game. And I had played in the exhibition season like [Bostic],’’ Buffone said. ‘‘I said, ‘I can do this.’
And he believes Bostic can, too.
‘‘One thing I really like about him: He’s got the talent to do it,’’ Buffone said. ‘‘There’s nothing worse than asking a donkey to win the Kentucky Derby. When you’ve got a thoroughbred, you can teach him. I don’t think that kid’s going to have a problem. He’ll make mistakes. But sometimes talent makes up for experience.’’