SUNDAY PLAYBOOK: Jon Bostic getting more comfortable, and it shows in his play
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter November 23, 2013 4:22PM
Middle linebacker Jon Bostic’s interception last Sunday against the Ravens was an example of a player applying what he has been coached to do. | David Banks/Getty Images
Updated: December 25, 2013 6:14AM
The Ravens had the Bears biting. The front seven of the Bears’ defense went right, while receiver Jacoby Jones raced to their left — with the ball.
That’s when rookie linebacker Jon Bostic, who already had an interception, made his best play in the Bears’ 23-20 overtime victory. He abruptly stopped in his assigned hole, broke left in a dead sprint past any potential blockers and caught Jones for only a four-yard gain on his end-around in overtime.
If Bostic hadn’t made the play, the Bears might have been looking at a different outcome instead of the morale-building victory they carry into their game Sunday against the Rams in St. Louis.
Not all linebackers can make athletic plays like that. If you talk to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, it’s a sign Bostic is playing ‘‘faster,’’ which is great news for the Bears’ beleaguered defense.
‘‘He’s a young, ascending player that we’re asking to get better,’’ Tucker said.
So much is on Bostic right now. He’s entrenched as the starting middle linebacker, the Bears have given up 727 rushing yards in their last four games and they’re facing an emerging rookie running back in the Rams’ Zac Stacy on his home field.
‘‘I’m recognizing things a little bit faster, reacting a little faster,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘It’s really about keep taking steps each and every day.’’
And the same applies to fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene, who is filling in for injured Lance Briggs in the Bears’ base package.
‘‘It’s all about comfort and building confidence, stringing together good practices and getting good corrections from really good coaches,’’ Greene said. ‘‘It’s confidence and also being out there. It’s starting to develop us a little bit more.’’
It’s no coincidence that their sense of comfort has come with the improved play of the Bears’ defense overall, especially as games progress — whether it’s holding the Lions to 14 points until midway through the fourth quarter or holding Ravens running back Ray Rice to a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry after his 47-yard run.
If you ask Bostic about his interception against the Ravens, his response makes it clear that he’s applying what he has been coached to do and is doing it at a rate that allows him to make plays, especially compared to his first start Oct. 20 against the Redskins.
The Bears were in cover-2, and Bostic was responsible for the deep middle of the field when quarterback Joe Flacco tried fitting a throw past him
on third-and-long to tight end Dallas Clark.
‘‘[Clark] was on the ball, so we knew he was probably going to run one of the deeper routes,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘Especially in third-down situations, he’s one of their go-to guys. . . . It’s just being able to run down the seam and being able to read the quarterback.’’
‘‘Really,’’ Bostic said, ‘‘it’s just me being more comfortable.’’
Looking at Rams return man Tavon Austin with special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis:
At first glance, rookie returner/receiver Tavon Austin isn’t having the kind of impact the St. Louis Rams had hoped for when they selected the 5-8, 176-pound speedster with the eighth overall pick in April.
Austin is averaging 8.9 yards per punt return and a decent 23.6 yards per kickoff return.
But Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis knows better. There is a lot more to Austin than his dynamic (and risky) 98-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Rams’ stunning 38-8 victory Nov. 10 against the Indianapolis Colts.
‘‘The thing that nobody gets is how many returns he’s had called back,’’ DeCamillis said.
That includes an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Cowboys on Sept. 22 and a 49-yard return against the Jaguars on Oct. 6. Both were negated by penalties.
‘‘Just flat-out explosion,’’ DeCamillis said of Austin. ‘‘We did a lot of work on him last year during the draft. He’s picking it up. He’s got his confidence going right now.’’
Directional punting by Adam Podlesh will be crucial to limiting Austin, and Podlesh excels in that area. It also helps to have Devin Hester to practice against.
‘‘We’ve got one that’s like him, so it’s the same thing,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘I know when we were playing Devin, it was always nerve-racking getting ready for him, and it’s the same thing with this guy. Our guys are going to be up for the task, and we’re going to kick it off and let’s see how we do.’’
Christian Tupou DT | No. 64
Tupou just had to be patient — and work. He knew his time would come, and he had to be ready for it.
‘‘It’s just the nature of the game,’’ Tupou said. ‘‘Everybody knows you can get cut or injured any time. It’s just the reality.’’
It has been a whirlwind for Tupou to get to this point. He went undrafted out of USC in 2012, tried out at the Bears’ rookie minicamp this past May, got a deal from the Bears, was cut after the preseason, was re-signed to the practice squad Oct. 8, was promoted to the active roster a day later and got his first snap Nov. 4 against the Packers.
With Stephen Paea dealing with turf toe, Tupou should see more time. He got 18 snaps against the Ravens after getting nine in his first three games combined.
‘‘It’s just a testament to how hard work pays off,’’ Tupou said. ‘‘Every day, I’m going to improve myself. There is no ceiling.’’
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will call his defense from the Bears’ sideline for the fourth consecutive week Sunday.
Tucker’s move down from the press box has helped rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, but it also has helped the veterans, who are used to having their defensive leader on the sideline with them.
‘‘I thought it was a good thing for him to come down,’’ defensive end Julius Peppers said. ‘‘He brought a lot of energy and positive vibes to us, so to have him there has been a boost for the defense.’’
There was plenty of talk about the Bears needing to get off to a better start this week against the Rams after their mistake-heavy drives early against the Ravens. To do so, quarterback Josh McCown (right) put it on the players to study on their own and be a ‘‘bit more tuned in Friday through Sunday.’’ We’ll see soon enough which players did their homework.
Weekly stat to consider: McCown has thrown 101 passes without an interception this season. That’s the second-longest active streak without an interception, trailing only the Eagles’ Nick Foles (162).