What would have happened if Barry Minter stayed healthy?
It was 13 years ago. The Chicago Bears were squaring off against the Cleveland Browns in week 3 of the NFL regular season, and first-round draft pick Brian Urlacher found himself on the sideline.
It may have taken former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz 13 years to get a play call in on a crucial third-and-short, but all it took was three weeks for Urlacher to capitalize on the opportunity created by the injury of Minter. And as you well know, the rest was history.
In his rookie season, Urlacher went on to be named the defensive rookie of the year by The Sporting News and the Associated Press. 13 years and eight Pro Bowls later, and Urlacher is no longer a Chicago Bear.
And once again, the Bears find themselves in a similar position.
They signed veteran D.J. Williams to a one-year contract in March in an attempt to fill the 6-foot-4, 258-pound void left by Urlacher. They also drafted linebacker Jon Bostic in the second round of the 2013 draft, who had a reputation as an athletic and instinctive player in his years at Florida.
We’ll start with Williams. He had a successful nine-year tenure with the Broncos, but has been on a steady decline the past few seasons. He appeared in just seven games last season due to injury and suspensions…And perhaps it’s something in the air these days in Denver (See Miller,Von) but Williams was suspended due to submitting an “inhuman” urine sample to the NFL.
And on July 31, Williams had his “Barry Minter moment” of sorts. Or maybe not. In an era of sports were every single practice drill, seven-on-seven and film study are seemingly eaten up, spit out and recycled in a matter of hours and standard newspaper reporting is comically outdated, comparisons are bound to be made. Some warranted, and some not.
So naturally, people are going to compare the Minter/Urlacher situation to the Williams/Bostic one we are seeing unfold before our very eyes.
And while they may not have the next Brian Urlacher, the Bears could have something special in Jon Bostic.
And they may not. Bostic has certainly shown flashes of greatness, even Urlacher-ness, in the preseason and training camp thus far. It started in the first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, where Bostic returned an interception for a touchdown.
Then, against the San Diego Chargers, Bostic was fined $21K for essentially doing his best Bobby Boucher impression on receiver Matt Willie. For those that missed it, Bostic may have had the hit of the year in week 2 of the preseason.
But the truth is, we really don’t know at this point. The only people who really know how good Bostic can be are the head-honchos over at Halas Hall, and even they won’t really know until he’s thrown into the fire of the NFC-north in regular season games. Though I’m sure Skip Bayless would have an over-animated opinion regarding Bostic one extreme way or another.
And with the uncertainly looming, Jon Bostic needs to start at middle linebacker for the Bears as soon as possible.
It’s no secret, the Bears defense it one of the best units in the game. That almost always seems to be the case year in and year out.
It’s also no secret that it is one of the oldest units in the NFL.
Key starters that have been the identity of Chicago’s defense (along with Urlacher) Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are all a few years past the wrong side of 30. All inserting a veteran stopgap in the most important position in the cover two defense would accomplish is delaying a developing young nucleus for the next generation of the Bears defense.
Henry Melton, Corey Wooton, Chris Conte and Major Wright are all competent, young starters. If Bostic pans out and someone like Shea McClellin can recognize his potential, the Bears could be loaded on defense with a new generation of young talent for the next five to seven years.
Just like 2000.
True, the Bears went 5-11 in Urlacher’s rookie year. But they went 13-3 in 2001, almost entirely thanks to young studs Mike Brown, Roosevelt Colvin, R.W. McQuarters and Warrick Holdman teaming with Urlacher to form a stout unit for years to come.
The Bears appear to be making leaps and bounds on the offensive side of the ball. It’s time to get younger on defense, and if Bostic is the real deal, the Bears could be set on defensive for years to come.
But “ifs” are solved one place: On the gridiron.
The ball is in your court, coach Trestman.