With all-time great Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher having recently retired, rookie Jon Bostic faces the question: Can he fill Urlacher's cleats in Chicago?
Urlacher was widely considered to be the second-best middle linebacker of his time after Ray Lewis, even by Urlacher's own admission, according to CBS Sports. Though analysts at NFL.com debated if the lifelong-Bear will make the Hall of Fame, the prevailing opinion is that he will one day reach Canton.
Since Bostic came to Chicago right after the famous middle linebacker’s decision to hang up his cleats, he will forever be remembered as the guy after Urlacher. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s the reality.
Without having a single NFL snap to his name, it’s too early to predict Bostic's future, but an analysis of the information available about Bostic can’t hurt.
Based on his college career and measurables, the Florida product is capable of ascending to Urlacher’s level. It’s far from a guarantee, but Bostic is a good pick with the potential to flourish at the pro level.
A CBS Sports article claimed that Chicago general manager Phil Emery “valued Bostic’s upside and versatility.” Versatility was one of Urlacher’s strong points in college where he played a hybrid defensive back position. The two share the ability to play multiple positions because of their athleticism.
If Bostic sticks at middle linebacker, he will need that athleticism. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is keeping the Cover 2, noted the Chicago Sun-Times, which means the mike linebacker has to thump runners at the line and drop back into coverage in the middle of the field.
He’s capable of it. Another factor that will help is his pure speed.
The former Gator ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, the best for any middle linebacker at the NFL combine, according to NFL.com. Urlacher ran a 4.57 in the 40 before he entered the NFL, according to Sports Illustrated.
Those times are close to identical, but the difference is that Urlacher is 6’4” (Bostic is 6’1”), and the recent retiree had been bulking up before the combine. Urlacher has a slight edge in speed, but a huge advantage in size.
Both players were prolific tacklers in college. The Bears rookie definitely proved he can produce, and he will bring an aggressive attitude to the NFL.
Reports from the Chicago Tribune indicate that Bostic looks good, with Tucker saying Bostic is smart and has a good work ethic. That makes two more attributes that are similar to Urlacher.
Bostic has a lot going for him—he’s athletic, fast and a good tackler. He works hard and should be able to run the defense.
The competition at linebacker will be tough, though. Bostic is fighting veteran D.J. Williams for the starting job.
Fellow rookie Khaseem Greene could compete at middle linebacker, too. Urlacher started outside before moving inside, and Emery and the coaching staff are all about players who can play multiple positions. The Bears won’t hesitate to shuffle personnel around.
Bostic’s path to playing time will be hard-fought this season. ESPN reported Emery’s comment that “we expect him to be a starter in the future,” though. Expect to see him starting by his second season at the latest.
Once he’s starting, he could be the next Urlacher. Having the potential doesn’t mean it will turn out that way, though. It’s a long shot.
Urlacher was an unbelievable talent, and Bostic is similar in some ways, but the blend of speed and size that the former Bear possessed was incredibly unique. Bostic doesn’t have that combination, and those extra inches are a big deal in the middle of the field.
On top of quantifiable advantages, Urlacher also had incredible intangibles.
His great football IQ was cultivated at New Mexico, where he played tight end and returned punts. Urlacher received coaching in every phase of the game, making him extremely knowledgeable. It’s almost impossible to find a player who plays offense, defense and special teams in college these days.
Urlacher’s leadership skills were praised by coaches, too. Former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli told Chicagobears.com that “his leadership was off the charts.”
Bostic could end up being a great player, but the physical and mental skills that Urlacher brought will be difficult to match.
Don’t expect the Bears to find another player like Urlacher for quite some time. That’s OK, though, because Bostic will be good in his own right, even if the shadow of his predecessor looms large.