Rookie review: MLB Jon Bostic

Stats: Bostic started nine of 16 games at middle linebacker and finished fifth on the team with 75.5 tackles. The 2013 second-round pick out of the University of Florida also posted 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. Before being inserted into the starting lineup after veteran D.J. Williams landed on injured reserve, Bostic contributed heavily on special teams where he made three tackles.

2013 role: Although the Bears used a second-round draft choice on Bostic, the original plan called for the young linebacker to sit behind Williams for at least one season and focus primarily on special teams. So even though Bostic played the entire preseason with the first team with Williams sidelined due to a serious calf strain, Bostic returned to the bench in favor of Williams when the Bears opened up the regular season versus the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8. But Williams lasted just six games and went on injured reserve on Oct. 18 with a torn chest muscle. Bostic was a fixture at middle linebacker for the rest of the regular season, and along with fourth-round choice Khaseem Greene, became the first rookie linebackers to start for the Bears since Lance Briggs in 2003.

The good: From a physical standpoint, Bostic proved that he belongs at the NFL level. Bostic can run. He had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of all the linebackers at the 2013 NFL combine, and can use that speed to chase plays down from the backside. Bostic can also deliver a hard hit. Bears general manager Phil Emery labeled Bostic the club’s second-best “striker” behind Briggs, a perennial Pro Bowler on the weak side. One of Bostic’s top plays in 2013 occurred in the Bears’ November win over the Baltimore Ravens when the first-year linebacker sunk back in coverage in the middle of the field and intercepted a pass. That sequence reminded many of how retired ex-Bears’ middle linebacker Brian Urlacher used to cut off the deep middle of the field with his uncanny speed and athleticism for 13 years.

The bad: From a mental standpoint, Bostic played like a rookie. He often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Bears had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, especially versus the run. When that happens, the linebackers usually assume a good chunk of the blame. After the Bears suffered many of their key injuries, it became commonplace for opposing ball carriers to reach the Bears’ secondary without even being touched, with many of those long runs coming right up the middle of the defense. The Bears allowed 2,583 rushing yards in 2013, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry.

Looking ahead: According to Emery, Bostic’s best chance for success in the future might be at outside linebacker. If the Bears re-sign Williams in free agency, there is a chance Bostic could move to strongside linebacker in 2014, with Williams in the middle and Briggs on the weak side. Shea McClellin may also figure into the mix at linebacker depending on the kind of front the Bears show opponents in a given package, but Bostic is a pure linebacker and needs to be on the field in some capacity. Best-case scenario is that Bostic learns from his rookie mistakes, and because of his speed and athleticism becomes a more complete, and consistent player in 2014. Bostic always seemed to have a good attitude and appeared to be well liked by his teammates in the locker room. The future does seem promising, but the Bears will expect Bostic to cut down on the amount of mental mistakes in his second NFL season.