The 2013 Chicago Bears' defense is still a very good unit. There's no way around that fact. However, the middle of the Bears' defense will look a whole lot different this season without recently retired Brian Urlacher.
Nine-year veteran D.J. Williams was signed this off-season to take Urlacher's place at middle linebacker. Williams returned to practice this week after sitting out with a calf injury since July 31.
Rookie linebacker Jon Bostic started in Williams' place and played very well this preseason. He intercepted a Cam Newton pass in Game One and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. He also made a huge hit on Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie in Game Three which he was eventually fined for.
The truth is Bostic is a rookie. He may be one heck of a talent and a solid player already, but Williams has been there and experience trumps inexperience almost everytime. Also, Williams is certainly a better talent in pass coverage, an area where Bostic struggled a bit at during the preseason.
Bostic is a big hitter, who will surely be a starter in due time. Williams even agrees that Bostic has tons of talent.
“Coming into the league out of college it's a big difference, whether it's scheme-wise or the size and the speed of the game,” Williams said via CSNChicago.com. “He adapted pretty well, in preseason made some big plays.
He continues: “If I wasn't ready for this week I wouldn't worry about him if he had to be the starter.”
Clearly Williams expects to start the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals and go from there.
Head coach Marc Trestman hasn't announced who will start just yet Williams or Bostic, but all signs point in Williams' favor.
"We have not (made a middle linebacker decision)," Trestman said via ESPNChicago.com on Thursday. "We'll continue to look at that. We're going to wait another day on D.J., who practiced well today."
Former Bears' linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't start until the third game of his rookie season in 2001. Obviously he was a mainstay for the next 12 seasons after that racking up over 1,300 tackles, 22 interceptions and eight Pro Bowl selections.
"He did well for what they asked him to do, but I like putting D.J. in there," Urlacher said on ESPN 1000 on Tuesday. "He's a vet, he's been there and if he doesn't do well -- which I think he will, but if he doesn't -- then you put the young guy in."
Starting weakside linebacker Lance Briggs wasn't a starter from day one either. A third-round pick out of Arizona in 2003, Briggs had a huge preseason, but didn't start until Week Four. Interestingly enough his first regular season game was against the Oakland Raiders and then offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.
Briggs strongly believes that Williams will be the starting linebacker on Sunday.
"When we opened camp, D.J. Williams was our starting middle linebacker," Briggs said via ESPNChicago.com on Thursday. "D.J. Williams got injured which in turn gave an opportunity for Jon Bostic to not only showcase his skills, but to learn. He got a chance to run with the ones and now D.J. Williams is back from injury and D.J. Williams is our starting (middle linebacker)."
Briggs doesn't think that Williams' lack of practice and game play this preseason will hurt him on the field early on this season.
"Two years ago I hurt my knee and I think in the fourth or fifth practice, and missed the whole preseason," Briggs said. "My first game was against Atlanta, we came out and played well and beat Atlanta pretty bad. I had a few extra loafs that game, more than I usually did, but technique-wise I was fine."
Trestman has a tough decision to make. I think he should use Urlacher's and Briggs' career starts as examples for what is to come. Jon Bostic will be a solid player in this league, but only time will tell if he will be as great as #54 or #55.
The smart decision would be to start the veteran Williams, who has 115 starts under his belt.
Expect Trestman to make the announcement that D.J. Williams will be the Week One starter in the coming days.
Jake Perper is the founder and head writer of Bearsbacker.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Bearsbacker and on Facebook for up to the minute news about the Chicago Bears.