By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Replacing a once-in-a-generation talent like Brian Urlacher is virtually impossible.
For years, Bears coaches were spoiled by Urlacher’s dominance on the field, and the (previous) front office ignored the inevitability that some day No. 54 would hang ‘em up. Bears general manager Phil Emery was keenly aware, and in reality, he forced that day to happen.
On March 20th, Emery announced the Bears were unable to reach an agreement with Urlacher and the two sides were moving on. Two days later, the Bears signed free agent middle linebacker DJ Williams to a one-year contract, and 37 days later they drafted Florida’s Jon Bostic in the second round.
Like first round draft pick Kyle Long, Bostic has NFL bloodlines. His father (Jon Sr.) was a defensive back for the Lions from 1985-1987. Bostic followed in his father’s footsteps, playing cornerback/safety in high school, but was recruited to Florida as a Will-backer. Bostic played all three linebacker spots, with the majority of his starts coming at Mike-backer. This versatility was a boon, and figured into the Bears decision to draft Bostic.
After reviewing several of Bostic’s game tapes, here’s my summary of what impressed me, what didn’t impress me, areas for improvement, and what his prospects are for the 2013 season.
Physical play. Bostic is an explosive athlete and no stranger to contact. He aggressively takes on blockers at the point of attack, and brings some pop when he meets ball carriers in the hole. Once he diagnoses a play and picks his path to the ball, he finishes with burst.
Football IQ. Bostic was a leader on the field and made all of the defensive calls. After reading his pre-snap keys, he directed traffic and got his teammates lined up. Pairing football intelligence with impressive combine measurables is exactly what scouts look for in early round prospects.
Pass coverage. Bostic looked comfortable in zone coverage, but in man, he frequently got caught peeking into the backfield, losing his man in the process. Teams attacked Bostic with crossing routes to tight ends and running backs. Bostic needs to decrease the cushion when playing trail man technique.
Overruns plays. In the open field, Bostic had a tendency to overrun plays and be eluded by the ball carrier. This was both a matter of taking an improper angle to the ball, and not breaking down or “chopping” his feet prior to trying to make the tackle. Overruns compromise gap integrity and create cutback lanes, so Bostic needs to be more technique sound.
Areas for Improvement
Wrapping up on tackles. Bostic loves going for the knockout blow. However, in instances where the ball carrier was able to withstand the initial collision, he gave up extra yardage by not wrapping up. Missed tackles at the second level in the NFL turn into big gains, so Bostic needs to focus less on making the highlight reels and more on making sure tackles.
Needs to use his hands better when sifting through blocks. Bostic willingly takes on blockers (typically with his shoulders), but is often so anxious to make contact, he takes himself out of the play. Bostic needs to work on using his hands to jar blockers, and “stack and shed” them, to either force ball carriers back to the middle of the defense, or free himself up to make the tackle.
Prospects for 2013
Bostic projects as the top backup at both the Mike and Sam-backer positions, and a four-phase special teams player. Bostic’s role on special teams could force a player like Blake Costanzo off the roster (which would be a cap savings of $815K).
If Bostic doesn’t crack the starting lineup at some point in 2013, given his occasional deficiencies in pass coverage, he will most likely man the Mike-backer spot in 2014 and beyond.
Bostic shouldn’t be focused on trying to replace a legend, as he’ll simply never be in the same size-to-speed category as Urlacher. He should be focused on making impact plays on special teams, and absorbing as much as he can from coaches and teammates.
Eventually, Bostic will get his opportunity to carry on the rich tradition at middle linebacker.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.