D.J. Williams didn't play a single snap in the preseason, but the 10th-year veteran could start at middle linebacker for the Bears in Sunday's season opener against the Bengals at Soldier Field.
That was the original plan until July 31, when Williams suffered a calf injury in training camp that kept him from practicing with teammates until this week.
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While Williams was recovering, rookie Jon Bostic stepped in, and the second-rounder from Florida made a big splash. In the preseason opener he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown, and he finished the preseason second on the team with 12 tackles.
Even after working with the first team for more than a month, Bostic says he understands if he's replaced, but he's not entirely convincing.
"It's not a big disappointment at all," he said. "D.J. has played a lot of football. He's the guy I've been learning from, helping me get better each and every day."
It would be optimistic to assume Williams has the stamina to play an entire game after so much down time, so both players should see action in the middle. The veteran says he knows what must be done to make up for practice time missed.
"Mentally, you just know you're going to have to do a lot of extra film study and a lot of walk-throughs and get a lot of reps that (were) missed," Williams said. "You've just got to double up on the studying.
"I know coming into the first game I'm going to be a little winded. But the first game of the season, everybody is going to be kind of like that."
Williams played all 16 games in six of his first eight NFL seasons. But last season he played just seven games and started once. He was suspended the first six games for violating the NFL's banned substance policy after officials said he supplied a "nonhuman" urine sample during a drug test. He had three more games added to his suspension after he was convicted of driving while impaired.
Coach Marc Trestman said decisions on playing time wouldn't be made until the end of the week at the earliest.
"He looked good at practice," Trestman said of Williams on Wednesday. "He moved well. He looks like he's in decent condition. I don't know that he's in game condition to play 60 or 70 plays, or 50 or 60 plays. Jonathan, if he's not taking as many snaps at the middle linebacker position, that'll give him more opportunities on special teams."
But Bostic says he'll maintain the mindset that he's had for the past month.
"I'm going to be out there preparing like I'm the starter because you never know what can happen," he said. "These guys around here have played a lot of football. You really don't get to walk into a linebacker room like I walked into."
That room also contains 11-year veteran and seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs and eight-year veteran strongside linebacker James Anderson.
"I'm just trying to make plays and learn from these older guys," Bostic said. "I'll just do whatever the coaches ask me to do. Whether it's play one snap of defense, or four phases of special teams, that's what I have to do. I'm just doing anything for the team to win."
The veteran says the rookie will be OK if he has to step in.
"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. "But he adapted pretty well. If I wasn't ready for this week, I wouldn't worry about him if he had to be the starter."
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