BOURBONNAIS — In the 2003 preseason, a Bears rookie linebacker pressed into the starting lineup for the first exhibition game because of injury graded lower than any other player in his position group with a 66.
Ten years later, everybody can agree Lance Briggs got better.
So will Jon Bostic, the impressive rookie middle linebacker running with the No. 1 defense since starter D.J. Williams went down Wednesday. Like Briggs did from Day 1, Bostic looks like he belongs in an NFL huddle. Initial impressions make it easy to see why the Bears drafted Bostic 50th overall — the highest they have taken a linebacker since Briggs fell into their laps at 68 in the third round of the 2003 NFL draft.
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Game action will provide a clearer gauge but so far Bostic shows no signs of being the next Michael Okwo or Leon Joe on a long list of over-drafted Bears linebackers. That is not to say Bostic necessarily will blossom into a seven-time Pro Bowler the way Briggs did after he replaced Bryan Knight. But if Bostic takes advantage of his opportunity as many expect, by Sept. 8 Williams' injury might go down as a happy accident.
Whenever Williams returns from a calf injury the Bears ominously call "week to week," Bostic could have proven to be too strong to supplant. Or if Williams' injury keeps him out longer than originally expected, Bostic's rapid development figures to keep anybody from wondering whether the Bears should tempt Brian Urlacher to come out of retirement. Talk-radio callers can hang up and listen for their answer, but it is a resounding no.
Realistically, the Bears should like nothing more than for Bostic to start the season-opener at middle linebacker and first-round draft pick Kyle Long to line up at right guard as part of the grand plan. One week into training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, coach Marc Trestman has been fascinating to follow. As Trestman pushes players with phrases like "This isn't a symposium!'' and "Let's run this play before November,'' he already has been more quotable during practices than Lovie Smith was during news conferences.
Only one thing has been more obvious than Trestman increasing the practice tempo: The Bears are closer to starting over than making the Super Bowl. Or, welcome to another Chicago team focusing on the future more than circling 2013 on its championship calendar.
General manager Phil Emery received deserved praise for announcing an in-season ban on negotiating contract extensions for 43 players, including 12 regulars. On the other hand, it also reinforced how many more aging veterans the Bears rely upon instead of up-and-comers — which allowed Emery to be so bold.
The developmental realities of Trestman's first season make it all the more baffling why the Bears neglected to draft a quarterback to groom behind Jay Cutler. If they had done so, all this recent blather about the read option might have sounded less nonsensical.
The read option, an old-school play considered new-age as more mobile NFL quarterbacks thrive using it, requires the quarterback either to hand off to a running back or keep the ball depending on the choice of a backside defender. It can be a terrific weapon if your quarterback is elusive or his name is Russell Wilson or Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick. It is a wasted snap if your quarterback is Cutler.
Why would an offensive guru like Trestman even bother practicing it?
Like the Wildcat, every play the Bears experiment with the NFL's latest fad is one less play the Bears utilize Cutler's strengths — throwing on the run, not reading whether to run. The most egregious thing stems from the contradiction that the Bears' entire offseason revolved around improving protection for Cutler when even one read-option play exposes him to an unblocked defender.
"The thing about Jay on a read option, Jay knows how to get down,'' Trestman said.
Unless Trestman means Cutler getting down at '80s parties, I suggest he watch more 2012 game tape. Cutler perhaps improved his ability to avoid contact but his instincts take over too often, as they did against the Texans. After Tim Dobbins clocked Cutler badly enough to cause a concussion, he fearlessly scrambled for an 11-yard gain the next play. He took six more snaps after that. He cannot be trusted to make prudent decisions to elude punishment.
Let teams with quarterbacks whose legs pose as big a threat as their arms set league trends. Let Cutler win games with his arm. The only time a Bears quarterback should run the read option is on the scout team against the starting defense.
It has a promising young middle linebacker that needs to prepare for everything in a major role he appears ready to embrace on a team in transition.