By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) Jon Bostic never really had a chance to start against the Bengals.
Despite performing well during the preseason while veteran D.J. Williams was out with a calf injury, the rookie linebacker from Florida was headed back to the bench as soon as the Bears knew Williams would be ready for the opener.
“I never felt like (the starting job) wasn’t mine,” Williams told CBSChicago.com on Wednesday. “Coaches told me that if I could go that week, I’d be going.”
About three weeks before the opener against the Bengals, it became evident that Williams could be full-go by the start of the first game week, which put him in line to play the regular season opener despite missing all four preseason games.
“They asked me, I practiced, they said how you feel, they felt comfortable enough for me to play,” Williams said. “So they decided to pull the trigger and let me play.”
Thus, Bostic received zero defensive snaps against the Bengals.
Instead, Williams got all of them, which was the plan as long his conditioning held up.
“I mean, Week 1, everyone is going to be tired, but I felt like my conditioning is (sufficient,)” Williams said. “I didn’t really get a lot of loafs on my grade-out. I graded out pretty well, so I’m happy about that.”
The coaching staff, which does the grading, agreed.
“D.J. was solid in the game,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “He held up very good. He’s a very instinctive player, and he’s been there, he’s got great experience in games. He moved around and made some plays for us, and I felt good about him in the game, I really did.”
Bears head coach Marc Trestman felt no different.
“I just think he’s going to just get better,” Trestman said. “He ran well for his first game back. His conditioning, quite frankly, was better than we thought.”
So the obvious question is: Where does that leave Bostic?
For now, it leaves him on special teams, which at least in the opener, didn’t allow him to do much.
“I was like, dude, is it always touchbacks like that?,” the rookie said Wednesday.
But don’t assume the Bears aren’t happy with what they saw from the rookie in the preseason. Sure, there were some mistakes made, but there were also a number of impact plays that showed his potential.
And that’s why he’s now preparing to play all three linebacker positions. With the roster cut down to 53 players, Bostic should no longer be considered just Williams’ backup. He may very well be Lance Briggs’ and James Anderson’s backup too.
“I’m asking those guys questions constantly because I’m trying to learn all their positions,” Bostic told CBSChicago.com on Wednesday. “I’ve got to prepare each week like I’m the starter, because you never know what could happen, anybody could go down so I need to make sure I’m learning every position.”
The rookie has kept a positive attitude despite not starting Week 1, mainly because he’s been aware of the situation all along. It’s important to remember that when Bostic was drafted in April, the plan was never for him to start the first game as a rookie.
Williams was certainly aware of that, so despite knowing a talented rookie is right behind him, he’s played a large role in Bostic’s development thus far. That’s partially because it’s a situation he is very familiar with after being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round in 2004.
“They brought me in and I was there to replace Al Wilson and he was honest with me the whole time.” Williams said. “He told me: ‘At the end of the day, it’s a competition, but I’m your friend and I’ll never steer you wrong. I won’t lie to you.’ And since someone taught me that way that’s the way I go about it.”
Williams has been around the league long enough. He knows there is competition every year, so there’s no reason to fight it. Meanwhile, the Bears know that competition can bring out the best in both players.
“I know at the end of the day me and Jon are competing for the same position, but I’m not going to snake him or steer him wrong or do something to make sure I play,” Williams said. “When the time comes and he fairly beats me out, he beats me out. Better man. That’s how it is.”
And that’s exactly how the Bears planned it.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.