CHICAGO – It was one play. One fourth-and-short opportunity in the first quarter of a meaningless preseason game.
But for Jon Bostic, the one play represented a major glimmer of hope.
With one burst, one shed block and more importantly, one tackle for loss in Thursday night's 20-19 win over Jacksonville, Bostic showed that he may be ready to take another step forward.
During a preseason when he has worked hard to find some comfort level at linebacker, for Bostic, the moment when he beat Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel and then wrapped up Toby Gerhart for a four-yard loss on third-and-one meant something.
On a night when the Bears' defense at times looked flat with the exception of a few choice instances – like Bostic's tackle that forced the Jaguars to settle for a field goal – Bostic found reason to celebrate a moment when he demonstrated that everything he has been working to learn is paying off.
Bostic said after Thursday's game that he had seen the third-and-short play call earlier in the week on film. Based on what he had seen, the second-year linebacker worked off his instincts, blew by Joeckel and locked up Gerhart.
It's moments like these, Bostic said, when his confidence grows. It also represented a far different side of Bostic than was put on display a week ago in the Bears preseason opener against Philadelphia.
"Tonight, I played more 'Mike' (linebacker) than I played 'Will' and I definitely felt more comfortable with that," Bostic said Thursday night. "I could play a lot faster – and that was my thing – just play fast and don't think."
Bostic figures to be a regular in nickel packages this season, but has worked both at the 'Mike' and nickel 'Will' spots throughout training camp. When he's on the weak side, the former 50th overall draft pick out of Florida said Thursday, he's forced to think more. He feels much more comfortable at middle linebacker – a spot he got serious time at during his rookie season when he filled in for the injured D.J. Williams.
Williams remains the starter at the 'Mike' linebacker in Mel Tucker's base 4-3 defense and Bostic's coverage ability will keep him on the Bears' first-team nickel unit.
But his true potential still hasn't shown through – especially coming off a rough rookie season and an underwhelming performance last week against the Eagles. But on Thursday night, when he finished with three tackles, Bostic feels as if he now has something to build on as it continues to attempt to cement his role with the Bears into place.
"I'm just learning the overall game and that comes from watching film," Bostic said. "I just keep improving, keep learning the game and that's only going to help. You learn something each and every day."
While he's learning, he's got plenty of tutors around him. Bostic continues to rely on everyone in the linebackers room from Lance Briggs, to Williams and linebackers coach Reggie Herring. It's knowledge he will plans to put to use in the Bears' remaining preseason games against Seattle and Cleveland.
But speed and not putting too much thought into what he's doing will remain the key. If he makes mistakes, he wants to make them at full speed and correct them later. Exactly how he factors into a Bears defense that is – like Bostic – trying to put a miserable 2013 behind them for good remains to be seen.
But how Bostic plans to approach his job, whatever it may be, remains the same.
"I just want to go out there and have fun," Bostic said.
His burst through the line Thursday night and third-and-one was a solid first step.