One of the stories I wrote about last week was the progress of second-year middle linebacker Dom DeCicco and how he's being groomed as a possible successor to Brian Urlacher. The reason behind that was simple, DeCicco is starting to turn some heads on the football field.
DeCicco has established himself early as one of the top performers of the offseason program, which included 10 OTA workouts and the three-day minicamp. His growth from year one to year two has been tremendous and his arrow is definitely pointing up.
DeCicco is currently playing on all four special teams units and earned a lot of first-team reps—during OTAs and the recently completed veteran minicamp.
He's bulked up considerably from last year, and is being counted on to be one of the top special team players for 2012. He could wind up being the special teams captain, after finishing second on the team in special teams tackles last year.
His role is simple, to come out be a leader and playmaker on special teams and to make plays when he's lined up as the No. 1 linebacker during practice. With Urlacher's absence, DeCicco has been making plays all over the field in coverage showing excellent range and the ability to get down the middle of the field in the Cover 2 defense.
This is perhaps the most important aspect DeCicco can focus on and succeed at prior to training camp: improving his pass coverage. The Chicago Bears haven't done much in the way of practicing their run fit or their run keys because the offense hasn't focused a lot on the run game.
That will come up in training camp, once the pads go on and full contact will be allowed. Urlacher is expected to be ready for training camp, but Lovie Smith has been notorious for bringing players along slowly from their injuries and Urlacher would be no exception.
The likely practice schedule for Urlacher will be limited, meaning we'll truly start to find out what level of player DeCicco is once the pads come on. The key will be his run defense in attacking gaps, recognizing his keys and reading and reacting to play-action pass.
One of the keys for any young player in sticking to the roster is contributing on special teams and DeCicco has done that and continues to grow into that role. The Bears have always had strong gunners (the outside-the-numbers smaller, quicker players), but have also had strong linebacker types.
In years past, the Bears have had Brendan Ayanbadejo make multiple Pro Bowls from his backup linebacker spot. More recently, Tim Shaw led the NFL in special teams tackles after arriving Chicago in a backup linebacker role.
This is where DeCicco fits in, that linebacker coverage role, as he continues to develop as a linebacker where he will likely get a ton of time during camp and preseason games. DeCicco's best opportunity is to continue to develop on special teams while he perfects all of the defensive responsibilities required to eventually succeed an all-time great.