Injury-plagued Bears linebacker D.J. Williams has Marc Trestman’s trust
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter June 17, 2014 8:47PM
Updated: June 17, 2014 8:53PM
First came the torn right calf, suffered the last day of July.
Bronchitis struck during the lead up to the Saints game in Week 5.
The next week, toward the end of the third quarter, D.J. Williams ruptured his left pectoral muscle, ending a season that felt as though it had never started.
“I was kinda banged up last year,” the middle linebacker said Tuesday after the first of three Bears mandatory minicamp practices at the Walter Payton Center. “This year, I’m just focusing on being healthy and being out there every snap.”
The Bears hope he will be.
“He’s certainly the lead dog there,” coach Marc Trestman said. “But we do have competition.”
When the Bears retooled their defense this offseason, they did so — mostly — with a splash.
They signed Pro Bowler Jared Allen, Raiders stud Lamarr Houston and the Lions’ Willie Young to rush from the edge. At defensive tackle, they re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins, and drafted two.
Three safeties added this offseason — free agents M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy and draftee Brock Vereen — have lined up as starters this spring.
The team didn’t draft a linebacker, though, or even sign a rotation player from another team.
They simply re-upped Williams to a one-year deal and moved one-time end Shea McClellin to the strong side. Jon Bostic is expected to push both.
For their patience to pay off, Williams — who appeared in six games last season after missing all four preseason contests — must be healthy.
So far, so good. Williams stayed in Chicago for most of the offseason to recuperate and declared his pectoral muscle “about 90 percent” Tuesday.
“But I still got a good month-and-a-half to continue working on strength,” he said.
The Bears report to training camp in Bourbonnais on July 24.
“I’m just hoping he can be 100 percent,” Trestman said. “He’s had an offseason to work. He’s been out there competing hard.
“And when he’s playing well, it’s visibly noticeable in terms of what we can do with the middle linebacker position.”
Bears officials point to Week 3 last season as the high point of the defense’s season. With linebackers blitzing the Steelers at will, Williams had two sacks in only 28 snaps.
“I still probably wasn’t 100 percent then,” Williams said with a smile. “But, you know, it was a pretty good game.”
The 31-year-old was injured three weeks later, but he knew he could be in the Bears’ plans this season.
“I spoke to guys upstairs, and they said they’d liked what I was doing prior to getting injured,” he said. “And their plan would be to have me back.”
Part of Williams’ value is his ability to mentor Khaseem Greene and Bostic, both second-year linebackers, and McClellin, who is learning a new position. Williams has played both middle and outside linebacker in his career.
“From being in the league — this is my 11th year — I’ve probably seen a lot more than them,” Williams said. “Whenever I see something, a little tidbit they might not know, or a little key here, I voice my opinion.”
Trestman said it would be “unfair” to players like Bostic to declare them backups this early.
“[Bostic] is competing at a really high level and has worked really hard and is right in the mix, no doubt about it,” he said.
If he’s healthy, though, Williams — who feels as good as he has in two seasons — will get the first look.
“I’m just going out there every day fighting to be on the field as much as I can,” he said. “As much as possible.”