The Chicago Bears were historically bad on defense last year, which forced the team to make a multitude of changes. GM Phil Emery overhauled the personnel, particularly along the defensive line, while coordinator Mel Tucker has been given the freedom to build the defense as he sees fit.
As part of those changes, the process for the linebackers will shift from an outside-in scheme to an inside-out scheme. The change in system is a welcomed one for second-year linebacker Jon Bostic, who struggled as a rookie.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Bostic said today. "I’m back to playing football the way I’ve always been taught to play, so I’ll be able to play a lot faster than I did in the past."
In the NFL, speed is everything. If you can't beat the guy opposite you from point A to point B, you're not going to succeed at the professional level. Typically, the main hindrance to speed is indecision and uncertainty. That extra second it takes a linebacker to analyze and react to the play in front of him could be the difference between a 1-yard gain and 60-yard touchdown.
Such was the case for Bostic last season, who appeared confused for most his time as the club's starting middle linebacker, and was thus always a step behind. He said this year, that won't be the case.
"[Tucker] basically changed some things this year," he said. "We’ll stay with a lot of what we did last year but we were doing some things that were unorthodox to a lot of people. Me and Khaseem [Greene], we had never did that stuff before, so it’s something you kind of have to get used to."
Yet it appears the system change isn't as dramatic for Greene, who was also very inconsistent as a part-time starter last season.
"I don’t think it’s different. I don’t think it’s different at all," Greene said. "There’s little tweaks there but I don’t think it’s different."
For Greene, the biggest change from last season has been the addition of linebackers coach Reggie Herring, a "throwback" type with more than 30 years coaching experience.
"I love coach Herring. He’s awesome," said Greene. "He brings out the best out of not only myself but all of us. And it’s not just linebackers. It’s anybody he talks to or coaches up. He brings out the best in them because he’s got so much football knowledge and he’s coached some of the greatest over his time period. He’s somebody who really does a great job.
"We had great coaches last year as well. It’s just something about coach Herring that’s kind of clicking a little bit differently with some of the guys, especially myself. It’s a good thing."
While Bostic and Greene struggled their first year in the league, the experienced they gained in 2013 should only help them this season.
"I think [the experience] was big," Bostic said. "Even through good times and bad times, I was still able to learn a lot, and like I said, they’re making some adjustments this year that will make it a lot more natural for me."
The Bears invested a second-round pick in Bostic and have worked him at multiple positions this offseason. He'll likely begin the year as the strong-side starter, while also serving as the backup middle linebacker.
"I’m comfortable with MIKE but I still know that I’m not where I want to be," said Bostic. "Being able to take reps at SAM and WILL has helped me to learn the defense as well, but I’m comfortable at those spots as well."
Bostic's newfound comfort level is important. If the new defensive line, new positional coach and new system all bring out the best in him, Bostic could be a major key to the success of the defense this year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.