By Adam Hoge-
LAKE FOREST (CBS) — When Bears general manager Phil Emery drafted Jon Bostic in 2013, he made it clear that the linebacker wasn’t being drafted to replace Brian Urlacher.
“He’s a three-position player, three-position linebacker,” Emery said that night.
Emery indicated that Bostic would start in the middle, where he played at the University of Florida, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t eventually move outside. And, after a mediocre rookie season in the middle, Emery once again hinted at a move outside.
“Some day — that may not be this year, it may be in the future — (Bostic) might be best on the outside to take advantage of the skill sets that he has,” Emery said after the 2013 season.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s open OTA workout at Halas Hall, where Bostic worked exclusively on the outside, receiving reps at both strong-side and weak-side linebacker. Just a week ago, when starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams was absent, Bostic was in his familiar spot filling in at the Mike, but Tuesday, with Williams taking the reps with the first-team unit, Bostic took all his work on the outside, while Shea McClellin handled the backup middle linebacker reps.
“It’s something to get used to,” Bostic told CBSChicago.com after practice. “I’ve always played in the middle, so something I’m getting used to — still learning.”
Actually, Bostic isn’t shy about admitting that he prefers to play in the middle, despite the Bears’ desire to work him outside, possibly even with the idea of having him succeed Lance Briggs on the weak-side in the future.
“I prefer Mike, but I do what they ask me to do,” Bostic said.
Right now, the coaching staff is asking Bostic to take reps at all three spots as they figure out where his best fit is. But if Briggs and Williams stay healthy, the second-year linebacker’s best shot of playing is at strong-side linebacker, where McClellin is also vying to start.
“When they first moved me, it was a little tough because I had to think backwards,” Bostic said. “I know my stuff off the top of my head, but thinking backwards. OK, I’m at Mike, I look over and I’m used to seeing (former Bears linebacker James Anderson) or somebody (at Sam), and I know what he does. I just basically have to do what he does.”
Emery said after the season that Bostic’s biggest struggles in the middle had to do with reading and reacting, as well as searching through blocks. There’s a lot more traffic in the middle, and Bostic’s speed could be better utilized on the outside.
But Bostic also stands to benefit from new coaching. Reggie Herring is the team’s new linebackers coach and has made quite the impression early on, much like Paul Pasqualoni has with the defensive line. Both coaches join a defense that will feature some new looks in 2014. Bostic, of course, wouldn’t reveal anything, but he believes the changes are beneficial to him as he gets more comfortable in the NFL.
“A lot of things we changed this year are more natural to me,” Bostic said. “I’m going to be playing a lot faster this year. We changed a couple things, it’s not big, but just some of the unorthodox stuff I wasn’t used to do doing. In the past, we’ve changed to more traditional stuff that I’ve always been taught, so now I can play faster, I don’t have to think at all time.”
In other words, less reading and reacting, more running and hitting, which Bostic proved he could do as a rookie.
In reality, Bostic has a lot on his plate. It might be best if he won the strong-side linebacker job and could focus on one position, but he might still be the team’s best option at middle linebacker or weak-side linebacker if either Williams or Briggs gets hurt.
“If anything does happen, if I do have to move around, I’m ready,” Bostic said.
It might not be what he prefers to do, but it is what Emery said they drafted him to do.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.