LAKE FOREST – To use linebackers coach Reggie Herring’s metaphor, the Bears are not married to a starting linebacker combination … yet.
“If you want me to prematurely tell you who I am dating and who I am marrying, I don’t have the answer. We’re still dating,” Herring said following Wednesday’s minicamp.
In some ways, the Bears have four legitimate starting linebackers – at least that’s how Herring describes it.
“At the end of the day, what we have is four guys that we feel confident in that have a chance,” he said. “The idea and the concept is, they’re competitive, they’re competing, they’re confident, and right now, going into training camp, any one of those guys could end up starting for us and we feel really good about it.”
Or, one can look at the situation and go with the number 'one' – as in there is one set starter at his position – Lance Briggs on the weak side. Just see how Mel Tucker responded when asked about who fits where in the linebacking corps.
“In our over 4-3 scheme right now Shea (McClellin) is playing the ‘Sam’ spot – that’s where James Anderson played last year. But he’s also lined up at ‘Mike’ there. Then in our nickel packages, he’s also played ‘Mike’ in nickel, so we’ll move him around as needed,” Tucker, the Bears the defensive coordinator said Wednesday. “Bostic has obviously played ‘Mike’ in base. He’s played “Sam” and “Will” in base. And he plays both spots in the nickel package. D.J. [Williams] has played primarily “Mike” in there.”
The focus is on versatility, for a variety of reasons, but definitely for depth, when considering the drop-off last year following injuries to Briggs and Williams.
“When guys go down, you can just plug a guy in," Tucker said. "Especially if you’re gonna be a [fourth] and a [fifth] linebacker, or a [sixth] linebacker and you’re going to play special teams, you’ve got to know multiple spots. You can’t be a backup and know only one spot."
Herring, who spent the last six seasons as a linebackers coach with the Cowboys (2008-10) and Texans (2011-13), emphasized the importance of getting Bostic and McClellin their reps at different spots.
“Right now, in a three-linebacker system, if you only carry five or six, they’ve all got to know every position. [Minicamp is] when you do this, you give them all experience at every position, and when we get to training camp, we’ll settle into certain things that we’re doing,” he said. “Right now, the process is we’re building depth within and we’re interchangeable, and that’s a good thing.”
McClellin has been working with the first-team at the ‘Sam’ linebacker spot in practices we’ve seen, a spot where Herring says he’s “really natural.” Bostic is an interesting case — he’s competing with Williams in the middle, but he’s been the nickel linebacker with Briggs, and we know how often the Bears expect to be in that situation considering their decision to draft Kyle Fuller.
“[Bostic] has great range and cover skills. He’s explosive. He’s an exciting young football player that’s getting better,” Herring said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that Jon is one of our better cover guys, if not the best cover guy we have.”
Herring even made time to laud Khaseem Greene (“[He’s] running quicker and faster than he ever has before at practice.”) and undrafted rookie Christian Jones (“[Jones is] doing an incredible job in flashes and shows he has a chance to be a good player.”)
The new assistant is a big fan of his group, and knows that while he is still in the ‘dating’ part of figuring out the rotation, something that will likely be set in stone during training camp, the depth and versatility is a good sign for the Bears down the road.
“It gives you future,” Herring said. “It gives you now and down the road, future, youth at that position. It’s exciting.”