By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) In the meeting room following last Thursday’s win over the San Diego Chargers, rookie linebacker Jon Bostic received only one message from his coaches regarding his hit on wide receiver Mike Willie that dislodged the football and created an incomplete pass.
“They said it was a good play,” Bostic said Wednesday.
Unfortunately for him, the NFL disagreed.
Bostic was fined $21,000, the league minimum for a hit on a defenseless player, which is what the NFL deemed Willie to be. Sources told 670 The Score’s Zach Zaidman that Bostic was fined for violating Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7.b.2, which prohibits “lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/hairline parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.”
So how does the league define a defenseless wide receiver?
From the rule book: “A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.”
Essentially the league ruled that Willie did not have a chance to avoid contact from Bostic, which is hard to disagree with, but the question is, what else is Bostic supposed to do?
“He could’ve allowed the receiver to run him over,” Lance Briggs said sarcastically. “That’s another technique. We could play the catch technique, we could play take a charge. I don’t know. You just got to play football.”
The Bears constantly preach dislodging the football and from their point of view — and in Briggs’ exact words — Bostic’s hit was “textbook”.
“I thought it was clean hit,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “His head was up and he hit with his shoulder from my vantage point on the field. And upstairs looking at it off the tape, I felt it was a clean hit and that’s all I really need to say about it.”
Bostic said after practice that he hadn’t officially heard from the NFL, but did get the heads up from his agent about the fine. He was reluctant to criticize the decision, but did state his case for what he was doing on that play.
“Obviously, it’s a bang-bang play,” Bostic said. “When we target the ballcarrier, getting your head across, make sure you’re not on the backside where he can run through the tackle. Just keep your feet running.”
And that’s probably what Bostic will tell the NFL when he appeals the fine, which is likely. Last year, Chris Conte appealed the $21,000 fine that he received for making contact with his shoulder to Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s head. His stance was that LaFell was pushed into him by D.J. Moore and the league dropped his fine down to $10,000.
In fact, this year they used that exact play in their official rules video as a “mitigating factor” which can prevent a player from being suspended for a hit to the head on a defenseless player. A fine can still be handed down, however, and a repeat offender can still be suspended for a similar play, which seems hypocritical considering the league is admittedly relieving the offender of some fault.
Conte explained the appeals process Wednesday: “Pretty much you call into the league office, you talk with someone on the committee and you just state your case. You say what happened on the play, they’ll watch the film with you and you just try to explain what you were thinking in that moment. If they think what you’re saying makes sense and that it warrants it not being as big of a fine as what was originally given, then they’ll reduce it.”
The safety also admitted that “how much you’re making definitely plays a factor into getting the fine reduced.”
Conte was a second-year player when his fine was handed down, while Bostic is a rookie making $405,000 this year and hasn’t even received a game check yet.
Bostic will certainly have a good case for a reduction of the fine. On top of not having received a game check — which is just over $23,000 before taxes — he really didn’t have anywhere else to go on the play. His only other option was to slow down and wait for Willie to secure the ball, which is not what he’s being taught. That would also put him in a position where he’s the one getting run over, as Briggs pointed out.
It also might not hurt to point out that the NFL Network, which the league owns, glorified Bostic’s hit all week.
In the meantime, Briggs is going to make sure his rookie linebacker doesn’t change the way he plays.
“I mean, you got to continue to play football the best way you know how,” Briggs said. “That’s what he was doing. None of the referees seemed to think there was anything wrong with the play.”
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.