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Jon Bostic starts anew after marred rookie season

Updated: August 1, 2014 11:51PM



BOURBONNAIS — After being buried in the rubble of a horrific defensive collapse last season, linebacker Jon Bostic is ready to re-establish himself as the post-Urlacher impact linebacker the Bears desperately need.

‘‘I’m back to playing football the way I’ve always been taught to play,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘So I’ll be able to play a lot faster than I did in the past.’’

Bostic was a second-round draft pick from Florida (50th overall) in 2013. His star fell precipitously after an impressive preseason built on two impact plays — a
51-yard interception return for a touchdown against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in the opener and a vicious hit that leveled San Diego Chargers receiver Mike Willie the next week.

Playing middle linebacker in place of injured starter D.J. Williams, Bostic looked like an opening-day starter who at the least could grow into the job with Lance Briggs beside him, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton in front of him and Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings behind him.

But Williams made a quick recovery to reclaim the starting job in the opener. By the time Bostic became the starter in Week 7
after Williams ruptured a pectoral muscle, the defense was on the verge of collapse. By Bostic’s third start, Briggs, Melton, Tillman and defensive tackle Nate Collins were gone. Peppers was only occasionally effective. And Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene — who replaced Briggs at weak-side linebacker — were caught in the undertow.

Bostic made occasional plays but looked more like a lost rookie finding his way than a successor to Urlacher. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 51st of 55 inside linebackers, with a minus-14.7 rating. His arrow went from point up to sideways at best.

‘‘I’ve heard a lot of people say that. [But] he was a rookie,’’ Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. ‘‘When I was at Houston, we wanted Jon Bostic. He was going to be . . . our second-round pick, and [the Bears] took him before we could take him [at No. 57].’’

Especially in the NFL, circumstances can distort a rookie’s performance for better or worse, and unfortunately for Bostic, the collapse of the defense made him look worse than he was. Behind a line that struggled to stop anything, Bostic was playing with the wind in his face instead of at his back.

‘‘He’s got AA change-of-direction, quickness, burst [and] instincts. He’s got a good football IQ,’’ Herring said. ‘‘He’s got a great linebacker body type to work with. He will and should be — with him and I both taking responsibility — a good player here.’’

The challenge for Herring and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be finding the right spot. Bostic figures to at least be a mainstay in the nickel defense — and the Bears look as if they’ll be playing a lot of nickel this season. But with his speed and thumping ability, he could have an impact anywhere.

‘‘That’s going to come for him. But it’s a process,’’ Herring said. ‘‘Right now, his ability to play any position and be effective — to me, he’s more valuable than any guy I got. He’s the only guy right now that I feel comfortable that can line up at every position and know what to do and be effective.’’

The key factor now is that the 6-1, 245-pound Bostic is coachable and a team player.

‘‘[I’m] ready for anything,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘I’m comfortable with Mike, but I know I’m not where I want to be. Being able to take reps at Sam and Will has helped me to learn the defense. I’m comfortable at those spots as well.

‘‘Really, I do what they ask me — that’s my job. They’re paying me to play football. That’s what I love to do.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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