Jon Bostic’s performance against the Cowboys gave new meaning to the age-old football coach’s response, “I’ll have to see the film.”
The second-year linebacker appeared to have played a decent but unspectacular game in place of Lance Briggs in the Bears’ 41-28 loss to the Cowboys at Soldier Field last Thursday night. He had seven tackles, which led the team, but didn’t make much of an impact. Kind of ho-hum.
Or so we thought. After film review, Bostic was credited with a whopping 19 tackles, which not only led the team but were the most by a Bear in five years. Even by Brian Urlacher standards or film-review inflation, that’s pretty amazing. Who knew Bostic was that good?
Coming off a 16-tackle performance against the Lions (a modest five-tackle bump from game-book statistics) in his first game in place of Briggs, it appears Bostic is getting the hang of the weak-side linebacker spot that Briggs parlayed into seven Pro Bowl appearances. With three more games, Bostic appeared well on his way to establishing that position as his own for the next several years.
But maybe not. With D.J. Williams put on injured reserve this week, Bostic is likely to move back to middle linebacker against the Saints on Monday night at Soldier Field. Rookie Christian Jones figures to move into Bostic’s weak-side spot.
So much for the theory of continuity — that Bostic would learn and grow faster at one position instead of moving from one to the other to the other.
“The most important thing is what he can do today, tomorrow and Monday night to help us win a football game,” coach Marc Trestman said Thursday. “Part of the reason we moved [Bostic] around during training camp and early in the season is because if we did get in this position, he’d be able to handle it.”
The Bears are big on versatility under general manager Phil Emery. They have safeties who can play either position. They have defensive ends who can play tackle. Their tackles are learning to play either tackle position. The linebacker positions are so interchangeable in Mel Tucker’s defense that the Bears no longer list them as weak, middle or strong on their depth chart, just “linebacker.”
Bostic has been a prime example of that versatility they’re looking for. As a rookie in 2013, he started nine games at middle linebacker after Williams suffered a season-ending injury.
He started for the injured Williams in Week 3 this season against the Jets, then played the strong side the next two weeks (before suffering a back injury and missing three games) after Shea McClellin suffered a broken hand. He replaced Briggs against the Lions and Cowboys. Now this.
“[Bostic] can play multiple spots,” Tucker said. “We’re not thinking about next year or future games or things like that. We’re focused on this week’s game against New Orleans and what we can do to put our guys in the best position to win the game.”
But — game film be damned — it seems like the Bears are more versatile than they are productive. Their defense is tied for 28th in the NFL in total yards and 32nd and last in points allowed. Confidence is not high that any move they make will work.
The Bears’ likely starting linebacker corps against the Saints — McClellin, Bostic and Jones — has a combined 24 NFL starts at linebacker. That makes Bostic the grizzled veteran of the bunch. He will have a bigger role in the middle.
“Just being more vocal,” Bostic said, “making sure that Christian and I and Shea [are] all on the same page [and] that we’re on the same page with the D-line and the secondary. Obviously, it’s a new group, and we have to get chemistry. Once we get that chemistry, we’ll be fine.”