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Lance Briggs must help out rookie MLB Jon Bostic against Redskins

Updated: November 19, 2013 6:38AM



Lance Briggs has a knack for fighting through adversity and stepping up when he’s needed most.

The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was visibly suffering from what seemed like a pretty serious cold Thursday and carried on with his media responsibilities at Halas Hall. He was engaging, informative and self-deprecating — poking fun at himself for a ‘‘bonehead’’ penalty on a fourth-and-one against the Saints. Even at a news conference, he was on his game. On this team, that’s like playing against the Packers with a broken leg.

Briggs has been even better on the field in his 11th NFL season. Even with the bonehead play and more missed tackles (12) than he had all of last season (nine), Briggs still is one of the league’s best linebackers. He leads the Bears with 59 tackles. He’s tied for second in the NFL with eight tackles for loss. He also is fourth among linebackers with six pass breakups and has two sacks and two forced fumbles.

With the possible exception of cornerback Tim Jennings, no Bears defender is playing at a higher level. But the Bears need Briggs to take his leadership to another level. And nowhere is that need greater than with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic, who will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

It’s Briggs who’ll have the most direct hand in guiding Bostic through a difficult circumstance — starting at middle linebacker in a struggling defense on a playoff-caliber team.

‘‘You don’t want to think too much; you just read and react,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘You allow your athletic ability to really take over.’’

Compared to Bostic, Briggs had it easy when he was in a similar position in 2003. When Briggs made his first NFL start against the Oakland Raiders, the Bears had nowhere to go but up. They were 0-3, and the defense had allowed 104 points. Briggs was playing at home and next to 25-year-old Brian Urlacher, who was just entering his prime.

‘‘Luckily for me, I didn’t play Mike [middle linebacker] and I didn’t have to make those kinds of calls or adjustments,’’ said Briggs, an outside linebacker. ‘‘I just thought regardless of [whether] I knew what I was doing, just run as fast as I can and get to the ball. A lot of effort plays.’’

Bostic has just as much athletic ability, but more responsibility in the middle of the field — especially in pass protection.

‘‘But Jon is further along than I was as a rookie,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘He understands all our concepts.’’

Bostic is known to learn quickly, but playing middle linebacker in this defense requires even more than that. He’s going to have to learn to trust that Briggs knows what he’s doing. Apparently, that’s a learned skill.

‘‘It’s just like me when I was young,’’ Briggs said, ‘‘and Brian might give me a tip-off, and I might be a step late because I didn’t really trust what he was saying, but what he said was right. So [Bostic] just has to know that, hey, if it’s going to be there, if it’s a tip-off, they’re probably going to run it.’’

It’s a huge task considering the state of the defense. But coach Marc Trestman is confident that Briggs will provide the leadership Bostic needs.

‘‘There’s no doubt,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘To watch [Briggs] work every day, his ability to communicate, his understanding of the defense and the standards that he has and he wants to get to with our defense — I think Jonathan’s in very good hands.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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