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Bears’ Jon Bostic makes strong case for starting

CHICAGO IL - AUGUST 15: Jonathan Bostic #57 James Anders#50 Chicago Bears move with play against San Diego Chargers Soldier

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 15: Jonathan Bostic #57 and James Anderson #50 of the Chicago Bears move with the play against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field on August 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Updated: September 18, 2013 6:12AM



Nobody’s putting Jon Bostic in the Hall of Fame yet — so please hold all emails and snarky Tweets — but it might not be too early to put him in the starting lineup for Week 1 against the Bengals on Sept. 8, whether veteran D.J. Williams is healthy or not.

The 22-year-old Bostic is far from a finished product. And he’s probably not good enough to start on a defense that would revolve around him. But on a defense where he’ll be surrounded by Pro Bowl players, proven veterans and rising talent, the 6-1, 245-pound Bostic already has shown enough big-play capability that the payoff of allowing him to learn on the job might be worth the rookie mistakes.

That’s why Bears head coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker get paid the big bucks and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle this call. The previous coaching staff wasn’t very interested in giving up production today for a better production tomorrow. But with two rookies already starting on the right side of the offensive line, it’s clear these guys think a little more progressively. The Bears’ defense might be a little better with Williams, a nine-year veteran, starting at middle linebacker in 2013. But if it can be a lot better with Bostic in 2014 and beyond, it might be worth it to live with his mistakes. This team should be able to afford that.

Because even after two games — an interception and 51-yard return for a touchdown against Carolina and a vicious hit on San Diego Chargers receiver Mike Willie that forced an incompletion and energized the defense and the Soldier Field crowd — it’s easy to see Bostic has a big future.

‘‘I think Ray Charles can see it,’’ Bears linebacker J.T. Thomas said with a laugh after Thursday night’s 33-28 victory over the Chargers. ‘‘Everyone can see it. Young, strong kid. Smart. The main thing is, he will hit you in the mouth. I would love to play alongside a guy like him.’’

Rookie flaws and all, that’s the kind of infectious impact a player like Bostic can have on a football team. A big hit like the one he gave Willie is like a home run that trumps three strikeouts in the previous at-bats.

Asked if he saw the hit, or at least heard it, Corey Wootton’s eyes got big. ‘‘Oh, yeah,’’ Wootton said. ‘‘I had a pretty clean view. I was right there at the 40-yard line. Everyone was saying it was Lance Briggs-esque. He put a good hit on him.

‘‘He’s been doing great all camp. Had a great game last week, a great game this week. Special teams as well. He’s been doing a great job, especially as a rookie stepping up.’’

The danger, of course, is that a big play here and there can obscure the flaws of Bostic’s overall game. Despite Wootton’s enthusiasm, Bostic didn’t really have a great game against the Chargers. He made one great, memorable play. It’s easy to get fooled. It’s happened before. It might be too soon to get too excited.

‘‘I don’t think so at all,’’ Wootton said. ‘‘Because most rookies are behind the curve and he’s going against starters. It’s not like it’s against the threes. He’s going against the starters every play and making an impact out there. So I think he’s definitely going to do a great job this season. I’m excited for what he’s going to bring to the table.’’

Here’s another benefit to playing the rookie this year: any time spent on the field with Lance Briggs is a boon to any of the Bears’ young linebackers. In Brian Urlacher’s absence, Briggs has been taking his leadership role seriously. His impact is immeasurable. And what better way to learn than by playing next to a perennial Pro Bowler when he’s still on top.

‘‘What people don’t see is that Lance is doing a great job of mentoring the young guys, in the locker room and the film room,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘He’s really becoming a different guy because Urlacher was that guy and now Lance has become more of a coach on the field. I really have to take my hat off to Lance in how he’s running this linebacker unit.’’

As for Bostic, he knows what’s happening, but is careful not to expect too much too soon. He’s still ridding himself of muscle-memory techniques from Florida, but once he does, it won’t be long before he’s good enough to start. Maybe by Week 1.

‘‘Only time will tell,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘It’s a long way for me to go. I’m not satisfied where I’m at right now. I have to keep learning. They said in this defense you’re going to learn by experience and day by day. You have to make sure you keep improving.’’

For Bostic, it’s not just a matter of time. It’s a matter of experience — experience he can only get on the field.

‘‘I’m getting more and more comfortable, but I’m still not where I want to be,’’ Bostic said. ‘‘I see that, especially from being with some of the older guys in the room, just seeing they’ve learned a lot of that stuff over the years. I want to be on the level they are, I’m still a little hesitant with those things right now. But, they said, with time it will get better.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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