Although there have been no official proclamations made by Bears coach Marc Trestman yet, it does seem it will be the veteran D.J. Williams who gets the start at middle linebacker in the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Before we get the why of the decision, let’s take a look at the wisdom.
Speaking after Thursday’s practice, Lance Briggs, who has taken over the leadership of the defense from the last man in the middle, Brian Urlacher, said he didn’t see why Williams wouldn’t be able to handle the job.
“I did it. Brian’s done it. Two years ago, I hurt my knee in I think the fourth or fifth practice and missed the whole preseason. My first game was against Atlanta. We came out, we played well and beat Atlanta pretty bad. I had a few extra loafs that game, more than I probably usually did, but technique-wise, I was fine.”
I’m sure Briggs knows what he’s talking about, but the obvious difference here is Briggs was an eight-year veteran of Lovie Smith’s scheme. Williams has never played for the Bears, played this scheme or played for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Still, it appears the Bears will prefer to go with Williams rather than rookie Jon Bostic, although Briggs felt the need to explain why.
“Let’s clarify this. When we opened camp, D.J. Williams was our starting middle linebacker. James Anderson was our starting [strongside] and Lance Briggs our starting [weakside]. D.J. Williams got injured, which in turn gave an opportunity for Jon Bostic to not only showcase his skills but to learn. He got a chance to run with the ones. Now, D.J. Williams is back from injury and D.J. Williams is our starting [middle]. The good thing about Bostic is, whether he’s ready or he’s not ready, he doesn’t have to be right now. When the coaches decide Jon’s going to be in, he’ll be in. Until then, we have very capable linebackers.”
While it’s safe to assume Briggs knows exactly what he’s saying, he did backtrack a bit, perhaps realizing there hasn’t been an official announcement yet.
“Since we have a new group, D.J. has missed some of that. It’s just about getting yourself back into the groove. I’m not sure how much he’s gonna play or how it’s gonna work out and stuff like that, but he’s a professional.”
After Wednesday’s practice, Williams talked about how he can be ready, having missed the entire preseason.
“Mentally, you just know you’re going to have to do a lot of extra film study, a lot of walk throughs and get a lot of reps this week that I missed,” Williams said. “I didn’t get any preseason practices or games so I have to double up on the studying.”
Physically, Williams says he’s sure he’s ready to go. “I’ve been out here, I’ve tested it out, threw it in the dirt and ran and pushed off of it so now it’s in the back of my head and now I’m just playing.”
So who will it be, the veteran Williams or the youngster Bostic? Unless Williams has a setback with the calf, it seems almost certain he’ll get the start.
What is the difference between Bostic and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills? Long and Mills are currently the best right guard and right tackle on the team. Although Bostic did some nice things in the preseason, he is clearly not yet as good a “Mike” backer as Williams.
Bostic’s time will come, that seems almost certain. But it’s not this Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals are not the Chargers, Raiders or Browns. They’re a playoff team that is favored to win the AFC North with multiple weapons on offense, the likes of which Bostic has never seen.
Williams has been around the block a number of times and even at 80 to 90 percent, perhaps even occasionally spelled by Bostic, if he is ready physically, he’s the clear choice to open the season.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.