The Bears find themselves at somewhat of a crossroads as they enter the back half of their 2013 schedule. At (4-3), they can conceivably make the playoffs despite the recent, crucial injuries to Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs. The Bears have enough talent on offense to stay afloat until Cutler’s return, but the fate of this team is tied solely to the sieve-like defense. Let’s go inside the numbers to see how the new linebacking corps, including rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, can make a difference on defense.
The developmental clock for young players has begun ticking far sooner than Phil Emery had wanted and anticipated. Emery invested a second round pick in Jon Bostic to eventually take over as a leader on D. The keyword there, however, is eventually. Veteran MLB D.J. Williams unfortunately tore his pectoral tendon in Week 6 and, as a result, Bostic and his (-4.8) overall Pro Football Focus grade has been thrust into spotlight. Granted, the rookie has seen just 89 defensive snaps to this point, but it will be difficult for him to simultaneously learn on the job as he’s expected to perform at a high level. Many fans and casual observers immediately point to Bostic’s preseason highlight reel hits as evidence of a surefire stud. While big time playmaking ability remains a sought-after commodity in the NFL, fundamental soundness and technical expertise allow players to enjoy longer professional football careers. Briggs will be discussed in more detail later on, but he epitomizes a “lunch pail” type player who does not possess superior athleticism, but consistently wins thanks to football intelligence and technique. Bostic’s preseason hit against the San Diego Chargers drew national attention to the young linebacker as he was fined $21,000 for what appeared to be a spectacular play. In his 83 other preseason snaps, Bostic managed a (-1.0) overall PFF grade, but excelled in coverage with an eighth-best (2.1) grade. Bostic posted impressive measurables at the 2013 NFL Combine, ranking in the top five at his position in the 20-yard shuttle, three cone drill, and 40 yard dash, so his coverage skills do seem somewhat translatable to his pro game. Where Bostic seems to struggle, however, is in run defense. Specifically, he has a difficult time making explosive movements in confined spaces such as shedding initial blockers. Better hand technique and more film study can turn Bostic into what Emery & Co. think could be a five-plus year starter in the NFL. At this point, though, Bostic will display some growing pains as he learns to adapt on the fly.