Weakside linebacker Lance Briggs moved into the Bears' starting lineup in the fourth game of his rookie season in 2003 and has been there for the past 10 years, earning seven Pro Bowl berths along the way.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher became a Bears starter in the third game of his rookie season in 2000 and stayed there for 13 years, making eight Pro Bowls before retiring earlier this year.
Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary didn't crack the starting lineup until the eighth game of his rookie season in 1981.
Could this year's second-round pick Jonathan Bostic be the Bears' starting middle linebacker in the first regular-season game of his rookie season?
"Only time will tell," he said after his second preseason start Thursday night. "It's a long way for me to go. I'm not satisfied where I'm at right now, so I have to keep learning. They say in this defense you have to learn by experience day by day, just make sure you keep improving.
"I'm not where I want to be. I saw that from watching Game One and even replaying this game in my head right now. I left a lot of stuff out there. I'm anxious to watch the film and get back to work next week for the next game."
Bostic has gotten an opportunity to play with the starters because 10th-year veteran D.J. Williams has been sidelined since the end of July with a hamstring injury described as week to week. Williams may or may not be ready for the start of the regular season.
The same could be said of Bostic. But Williams isn't healthy, the rookie is the next man up.
He's made some good first impressions.
"I like his progress," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said before Thursday night's game. "I think he's gaining confidence in what he's being asked to do from technique and assignment standpoints, like any new player in a system. But he has a very good demeanor. It's not too big for him. He's physical, and if he continues to keep his head down, work hard, keep his mouth shut and do what we ask him to do, he'll gain the respect of his teammates more and more every day."
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Bostic has already made some plays that have forced his teammates and coaches to notice him. In the preseason opener against Carolina he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown. Then against the Chargers he had 2 tackles. But his most memorable play was a highlight-film beatdown, as he flattened Mike Willie, just as a Charlie Whitehurst pass reached the wide receiver's grasp, resulting in an incomplete pass that was a split-second away from being a forced fumble.
"We were saying that's a mini Lance (Briggs) out there," Bears defensive end Corey Wootton said of Bostic's knockdown. "It was a heck of a play by him. He's been having a great preseason. This week (he was) all over the field, (and playing) special teams as well. He's been great so far the past two weeks."
Questioned repeatedly about his big hit, Bostic downplayed the contact while focusing on the result.
"I just let all that other stuff play out," he said. "I'm just out there having fun and we're trying to take the ball away; that's all we're trying to do. That's the main thing; we want to take the ball away on defense. I read it kind of quick, obviously it was a big hit, but we didn't get the ball, so …"
Bostic was drafted because the Bears felt he would soon become a starter at a position that had a lot of experience but needed an infusion of youth. Briggs is 32, Williams 31 and James Anderson is 29. But the plan didn't have the 22-year-old Bostic starting on opening day. And he said that wasn't his focus when he came to camp in late July.
"My biggest thing was just to come in, work hard and make the team," Bostic said. "I knew it was going to be tough trying to make this team; it still is. I'm going to have to make this team (based) on special teams and let defense and all that other stuff play out by itself."
The way it's playing out so far, Bostic could follow a trail blazed by three of the best in a long line of legendary Bears linebackers.
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