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NFL Team Report - Chicago Bears - INSIDE SLANT
Linebacker Jonathan Bostic is a prime example of the value of prospects being in the eye of the beholder. While NFL scouts were concerned about his sideline-to-sideline speed, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery saw a smart, versatile athlete capable of helping his team in a variety of roles from Day 1.
Primarily, the Bears needed a young linebacker to develop in the middle after parting ways with Brian Urlacher, who announced his retirement Wednesday. The team signed veteran D.J. Williams, who has significant experience playing inside and outside. But he also comes with a long history of off-field baggage and the Bears couldn't put all their eggs in a basket that is one more incident away from a year-long suspension.
Bostic also provides versatility. While all 32 of his career starts at the University of Florida came at middle linebacker, he did begin his Gators career on the weak side. If he initially loses out on the starting job to Williams, Bostic will increase depth at all three linebacker positions.
Bostic displayed good athleticism during the pre-draft process, running a 4.61-second 40-yard dash and a 4.24 20-yard shuttle. He also comes from good football bloodlines as his father, Jon Bostic, was a defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1985-87.
The 6-1, 245-pound Bostic was the No. 8-rated outside linebacker prospect by NFLDraftScout.com entering the draft and the No. 84-rated prospect overall with a third-round projection. The primary concern for NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang was Bostic's inconsistency in quickly shedding blocks and losing sight of the ball while doing so.
Rang compared him to New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne - an effective run-stuffing linebacker capable of racking up big tackle numbers in the middle. The Seattle Seahawks didn't attempt to re-sign Hawthorne as a free agent during the 2012 offseason, however, because he lacked great sideline-to-sideline speed, and the Bears may find the same shortcoming with Bostic.
Emery valued Bostic's upside and versatility enough to select him in the middle of the second round. Bostic does display good instincts and has the potential to warrant the faith Emery showed in him if he proves to be faster to the ball than he might appear in a 40-yard sprint in shorts.
Bostic finished his Gators career with 237 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five interceptions - so he has certainly proven to be productive. Chicago hopes he can fulfill Urlacher's former role come training camp. If not, weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs will turn 33 this season and new strong-side starter James Anderson has a one-year contract, so Emery is confident the Bears will reap long-term rewards from his selection.
"The reason we like Jon (is) he's a three-position linebacker," Emery said after the draft. "We felt that it was very important that if we were going to take a linebacker in the second round, that we get somebody who could immediately fill in (at) all three spots; that we would have a good football player in place right now. Obviously he'll be given an opportunity to earn a starting job. We see him as a future starter."
A defensive back in high school, Bostic said he's comfortable lining up pretty much anywhere the Bears need him.
"It really doesn't matter to me," Bostic said after he was drafted. "I went to college (having played) corner and safety and I knew I was going to be a linebacker going in. I went to college to play Will (weak-side linebacker).
"But (coaches) slid me over to Mike (middle linebacker). It was kind of just natural for me. Linebacker is linebacker. It's just where you line up, so it's not really that big of a difference to me."
At the very least, Emery expects Bostic to be a core special teams player as a rookie and to also make a contribution on defense. After the Chargers made Manti Te'o the first linebacker taken in the second round (38th overall), linebackers Kevin Minter and Kiko Alonso were taken at 45 and 46 before the Bears grabbed Bostic at 50. The Patriots took linebacker Jamie Collins two picks later.
Emery preferred Bostic to those taken in the same vicinity for several reasons.
"One is intelligence," said Emery. "He's a guy that can line up others. We brought him in for a visit, we felt very good about his football aptitude and his ability to line everybody else up on the field. Two, he's fast. He's one of the fastest linebackers in the class. Three, was his positional flexibility, and four, special teams. He fit the bill."
--For the first 10 years of his NFL career, weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs lined up next to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in the Bears' defense.
That combination resulted in eight Pro Bowls for Urlacher, seven for Briggs and a defense that was regularly one of the best in the NFL. But Urlacher isn't around anymore, and neither is Nick Roach, the starter on the strong side for most of the past five seasons.
"It's very different," Briggs said Tuesday afternoon after the fifth of 10 organized team activities leading into next month's final minicamp. "I didn't call the plays before, and now I'm calling the plays. I just have a lot of respect (for Urlacher); I've been spoiled for the last 10 years."
But the 32-year-old Briggs says the added responsibility isn't a burden.
"It just means to continue to be me," he said. "I'm just more vocal now."
When training camp opens the last week in July, Briggs' new running mates will be two veteran players, each in their first season with the Bears. Former Bronco D.J. Williams will be in the middle, with ex-Falcon James Anderson on the strong side.
"We have a lot of great players," Briggs said, "so for me, it's just getting guys aligned. Getting them in the best position to compete is my job."
Calling signals and getting teammates lined up won't be as difficult as it could be, since new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is running a scheme similar to what Briggs has always excelled in with the Bears.
"It's a blessing that he chose to do that instead of having us change our language and the way we do things," Briggs said. "We were a top-five defense last year (No. 3 in points allowed and No. 5 in yards allowed). In order to get back there, I don't think you change and try something different. You keep doing what you're doing."
Giving the Bears better linebacker depth than they've had in years will be second-round pick Jon Bostic and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene, who will look to Briggs for leadership.
"These young guys are wide-eyed, flying around, very smart guys," Briggs said. "You'll get to know more about them once we put pads on, but they're soaking it in really fast; picking it up. I'm excited to see what they're going to do."
NFL Team Report - Chicago Bears - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Bears announced two months ago they wouldn't be re-signing linebacker Brian Urlacher. After getting scant interest in the free-agent market, Urlacher announced his retirement Wednesday.
On his Twitter page, Urlacher wrote, "After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made a decision to retire. Although I could continue playing, I'm not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that's up to my standards. When considering this, along with the fact that I could retire after a 13 year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear. I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped me along the way. I will miss my teammates, my coaches and the great Bears fans. I'm proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss this great game, but I leave it with no regrets."
In a statement, bears chairman George H. McCaskey said, "How lucky we were that Brian Urlacher was a Chicago Bear.
"Brian announced his retirement in the same, understated way in which he carried himself at Halas Hall the last 13 years - he simply wanted to be one of the guys and play the game he loves. But his rare ability, work ethic and passion for football put him among the greats to ever play the game. Besides superlative play on the field, he was also the unquestioned leader in the locker room, as well as the sometimes reluctant face of the franchise. Brian is a special person who represented our team and our city with skill and humility while never seeking acclaim or recognition.
"In the pantheon of Bears, Brian has earned his place alongside Halas, Grange, Nagurski, Ditka, Payton - and yes, Bill George, Butkus and Singletary.
"We congratulate Brian on a brilliant career and he will continue to be a welcomed member of the Bears Family in retirement."
Appearing on NFL Network, Urlacher was asked if he thinks he'd still be playing if Lovie Smith hadn't been fired as the team's head coach after the 2012 season.
Urlacher said, "I do believe that, yes. I think my desire to be there would be a lot more as well. Nothing against the new coaching staff because I never played for them, but when you start playing for a guy like Lovie, you want to keep playing. So I think if he was there, my desire, my want-to to play would still be there."
Then asked if he should have accepted what the Bears originally offered considering how free agency played out, Urlacher firmly said, "No, not at all. I still feel I made the right decision. The reason I wouldn't take it is because of the way the situation was handled. If the situation was handled differently, if they were straight forward with me, if they told me, 'Hey this all we have to offer you. We want you here another year, but we can't do anything more for you. We would like to bring a young guy in,' whatever. The way it was handled, they told us to make an offer and then 'they would do this and that.' I just felt that was not the way to handle it whoever controlled that. That made me mad. Just tell me upfront, 'We want you, we don't want you, this is what we have for you.' It was not a negotiation and it frustrated me."
--Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi remains away from OTAs while he works out with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley in Arizona.
Bentley told the Chicago Tribune, "Any time a player opts to make an investment in himself that is outside the scope of what the team expects, that's a gamble. That's sometimes a risk that players have to be willing to take. Sometimes, when guys are in a situation like Gabe, maybe the player feels comfortable betting on himself.
"Now, where it gets a little sketchy, you can't go back and be OK. You can't go back and be good. You've got to go back and be damn good. That's where the pressure falls back onto the player and, to be quite frank, that is where it belongs. Let these guys stand up and man up for themselves. These are their careers. If Gabe Carimi is going to be labeled as a bust, let this man do it on his own terms."
--Because he's participating in the Bears' organized team activities, rookie punter Tress Way wasn't at home in Tulsa or at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, when a deadly tornado touched down Tuesday in Moore, Okla.
"Moore is about five minutes from school," Way said. "The movie theater that was hit, that's where we all go see our movies. I was in our rookie meeting yesterday, and my phone just kept buzzing. Obviously I wasn't checking it or anything, but I was really eager to see what happened because we had no idea.
"We had been here all day, and I just started getting text-message pictures from people, and it was just heartbreaking."
Way doesn't have much of a chance to unseat incumbent Adam Podlesh, but the longer he sticks with the Bears, the better chance he has of catching the eye of another NFL team. He wishes he could join the other volunteers who are helping with the recovery.
"I just want to go help," he said. "I texted all the guys from my team back home. I just said, 'Fellas, get down there. Start pulling debris off. They're missing kids. There are families.'
"My fiancee, who's a softball player (at Oklahoma); the softball team started a charity where they're taking in shoes and clothes and everything. What's amazing is that in just a horrible natural disaster like that, God just can bless people by people helping out each other.
"There'd be a lot of times where people are running away from something that horrible, but in Oklahoma City, I heard news reports that they actually had to keep people away from the disaster because people were wanting to help that much. That makes my heart feel a little bit better."
After Thursday's practice, the Bears have the week after Memorial Day off, and Way knows what he'll be doing.
"I'll be going home for Memorial Day weekend," he said. "Anything I can do, whenever I get home, I'll be helping. I'm really encouraged to see everybody that's willing to help."
--Veteran safety Tom Zbikowski has spent five years in the NFL, sometimes starting, sometimes not, but always contributing on special teams. He says he's willing to do whatever it takes with the Bears to keep playing, after four years with the Ravens and last season with the Colts.
"You just have to give me a jersey and a helmet, and I'll be happy playing anywhere," Zbikowski said. "I'll start working on long snapping if you need a backup long snapper. I just want to be on the field and contribute in any way I can."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They don't get old. I just get old." -- Bears 32-year-old Lance Briggs, when asked if OTAs and minicamps ever get old.
NFL Team Report - Chicago Bears - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bears' picks:
Round 1/20 - Kyle Long, OG, 6-6, 313, Oregon
Developmental project who started just four games in FBS program and played in just 11. Former baseball pitcher who was drafted in the 23rd round out of high school by the White Sox. Started collegiate career as a pitcher on a baseball scholarship at Florida State but flunked out. Transferred to Saddleback JC, where he played defensive end in 2010 and moved to tackle in 2011. Father is Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long; brother is Rams defensive end Chris Long. Excellent athlete for the position. Ran a 4.94 40 at the Combine, best among all guards and 15.8 percent body fat was best among all linemen. Will be 25 in December.
Round 2/50 - Jonathan Bostic, LB, 6-1, 245, Florida
Bears believe he has the versatility to play all three linebacker positions. Started Gators career on the weak side but made all 32 of his starts at middle linebacker. Above-average agility and speed. Ran 4.61 40-yard dash and 4.24 20-yard shuttle. Plays with more finesse than brute strength and is more flashy than consistent. Father, Jon Bostic, was a defensive back for the Lions from 1985-87.
Round 4/117 - Khaseem Greene, LB, 6-1, 241, Rutgers
Big East defensive player of the year in 2012 and shared the award in 2011. Began Scarlet Knights career as a free safety and led the team with three interceptions in 2010, starting all 12 games. Converted to weak-side linebacker and had 141 tackles in '11 and 136 hits last season. Managed 26.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in two seasons at linebacker. Had NCAA career-record 15 forced fumbles. Brother Ray is a running back at Pitt.
Round 5/163 - Jordan Mills, T, 6-5, 316, Louisiana Tech
Started 34 games, including all of the final 25 in his last two seasons. Started 29 games at right tackle and five at left guard. Hard worker with good mental approach and nice physical traits but needs to refine his technique and did not face top-level competition. Cousin is Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.
Round 6/188 - Cornelius Washington, DE, 6-4, 265, Georgia
Could be a huge bargain if he plays up to his potential, which he has done only in short bursts in the past. Seems to be better suited as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but will be a defensive end in the Bears' 4-3. Country strong, powerful and explosive. Ran a 4.56 40, had a 39-inch vertical at the Combine and bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times. Has maxed 500 on the bench. Lacks instincts and doesn't play as well as he works out; had just 10.5 career sacks. Takes downs off, and competitiveness and coachability have been questioned. Can win with physical play as a run defender and pass rusher.
Round 7/236 - Marquess Wilson, WR, 6-3, 194, Washington State
Had a year of eligibility remaining. Has major character concerns. Was suspended from team last season after nine games and then quit. Was not allowed back on campus for Pro Day. Still led the team in receiving with 52 catches for 813 yards (15.6-yard average). In 2011, as a sophomore, set school records with 83 receptions and 1,388 yards, averaging 16.9 yards per catch and scoring 12 touchdowns. Has average speed but good agility. Despite a lack of strength (just seven reps of 225 on the bench), will catch over the middle.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: DT Henry Melton (tendered at $8.45 million; signed tender March 12).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (6)
--RB Kahlil Bell was cut but then re-signed after Michael Bush was injured late in the season. He has some value, but only as a No. 3, and he has had fumbling issues in the past.
--DE Israel Idonije lost his starting job to Corey Wootton midway through the season but still played extensively in a rotation that utilized four players. He also adds great value because of his versatility, having played inside in the past, where he provides decent pass rush.
--PK Olindo Mare won't be back. He was a late-season fill-in for Robbie Gould, who is recovered from a sprained knee.
--S Troy Nolan could be a factor on special teams but not much more.
--DT Amobi Okoye wasn't much more than a warm body last season, but he's still only 26, so he could figure as a backup.
--LB Brian Urlacher has been the face of the franchise for a decade, but the team announced March 20 he won't be re-signed.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--G Kyle Long (1/20): $8.3M/4 yrs, $4.4M SB.
--LB Jonathan Bostic (2/50): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Khaseem Greene (4/117); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Jordan Mills (5/163): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Cornelius Washington (6/188): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Marquess Wilson (7/236): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Armando Allen: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Zack Bowman: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Nate Collins: Not tendered as RFA; $630,000/1 yr.
--CB Kelvin Hayden: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Josh McCown: UFA; $865,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB/$125,000 guaranteed.
--DT Henry Melton: FFA; $8.45M/1 yr.
--T Jonathan Scott: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB James Anderson: FA Panthers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Martellus Bennett: UFA Giants; $20M/4 yrs, $4.5M SB/$9M guaranteed.
--G Eben Britton: UFA Jaguars; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Jermon Bushrod: UFA Saints; $36M/5 yrs, $11M SB/$17.715M guaranteed.
--TE Brody Eldridge: FA; terms unknown.
--DT Corvey Irvin: FA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--TE Steve Maneri: Not tendered as ERFA by Chiefs; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Turk McBride: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Kyle Moore: UFA Bills; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Matt Slauson: UFA Jets; $815,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB/$200,000 guaranteed.
--LB D.J. Williams: FA Broncos; $1.75M/1 yr.
--S Tom Zbikowski: FA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Jason Campbell: UFA Browns; $4.25M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
--TE Kellen Davis (released).
--LB Dom DeCicco (released).
--LB Geno Hayes: UFA Jaguars; $2M/2 yrs.
--WR Johnny Knox (released/failed physical; subsequently retired).
--G Lance Louis: UFA Dolphins; $1.603M/1 yr, $100,000 guaranteed.
--CB D.J. Moore: UFA Panthers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Chilo Rachal: UFA Cardinals; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Nick Roach: UFA Raiders; $13M/4 yrs, $5M guaranteed.
--TE Matt Spaeth (released).
--C/G Chris Spencer: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Matt Toeaina (released).