Kevin Gorman: Steelers’ Jon Bostic embracing opportunity at inside linebacker
Jon Bostic knows he’s not Ryan Shazier, even if he’s trying to take his spot in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting lineup.
While he doesn’t possess Shazier’s speed at inside linebacker, Bostic believes he can match his level of communication. That’s why No. 51 was barking out calls and directing traffic Saturday afternoon at Saint Vincent, despite being the newcomer to the Steelers defense.
“I’m always going to be talking,” Bostic said. “That’s the way I was taught. You’ve got to over-communicate when you’re out there. It can never be too much communication. That’s something I feel I’ve brought to the team. The coaches are seeing that and other players are noticing it, as well, and saying, ‘It’s so much easier playing with you because I don’t have to think. I can play fast.’ ”
If Bostic was an underwhelming free-agent solution to the Steelers losing Shazier to a spinal injury, it’s because they are his fifth team in five seasons. A 2013 second-round pick out of Florida by the Bears, Bostic was traded twice in a year, to the Patriots in September ’15 and to the Lions a year later, before signing with the Colts last season.
But Bostic recorded 97 tackles, including six for losses, in 14 games for the Colts. That’s more than any Steelers had last season, including Shazier (who missed the final four-plus games). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise Bostic is taking repetitions in Shazier’s spot next to Vince Williams with the first-team defense.
It’s a status with the Steelers that Bostic is not taking for granted.
Playing for so many teams forced him to learn different schemes, from heavy man-to-man at Florida to the Tampa 2, Cover 3 and Cover 4 in the NFL. Bostic believes that background gives him an advantage, and the right knee injury that sidelined him last season served as an opportunity to study opposing offensive coordinators.
“What’s crazy is, I’ve been exposed to so many different schemes. Now, when coaches ask your linebackers to do certain things they may not have asked them to do before, I played in that scheme,” Bostic said. “When coaches see that, they feel comfortable with me out there and give me more leeway. In Indy, I was able to change a lot of plays, a lot of fronts. They were like, ‘Hey, we’re not out there. You are. If you feel something, get us in the best play we should be in.’ It’s about getting better every day. Hopefully, at some point in time, they give me that leeway and allow me to do some stuff like that.”
Steelers inside linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky doesn’t necessarily buy that argument, but only because he thinks the 6-foot-1, 246-pound Bostic is shortchanging himself.
“Jon understands because he’s a smart kid, not because he’s been at a lot of places,” Olsavsky said. “He understands, he’s smart and he knows football. He knew it at Florida. Being in all of those systems means you can sample a lot of dishes. The good thing is, he can pass his knowledge on out there. That’s a skill, to be able to talk while people are moving. That’s what I appreciate about him. ...
“And he’s a big dude and he can run. I don’t know why he bounced around but I talked to him and said, ‘You don’t know why, but you’re here and we’re going to take care of you and try to find the missing piece so you can be a great player.’ That’s where I’m trying to go.”
Bostic is embracing his shot with the Steelers, to the point he was still reveling in their annual practice under the Friday night lights at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, and to be a part of their storied history.
“There’s so much history here, tradition and whatnot. It really means a lot to put that logo on when I put that helmet on each and every day,” Bostic said. “A lot of people can look over that stuff, but they paved the way for us. The tradition’s here. It’s up to us to get back to those standards and uphold the standards they set long before we were even thought about. ...
“You want to be on a team that wants to win, that knows how to win and uphold that tradition. When we came to Florida, that tradition was the middle linebacker spot. That tradition, to this day, still needs to be carried over. Same thing here. We’ve got to get back to it first, then uphold it.
Olsavsky knows something about upholding that tradition, as he was in the middle of it as a player from 1989-97 and as an assistant since 2010. Olsavsky will be the first to tell you Shazier was a special talent but one whose football acumen led to stardom.
“To replace that, it’s really hard. We’ve been working at it and working at it, and you’re never going to replace that,” Olsavsky said of Shazier. “It’s great to play on an NFL team. It’s great to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But you’ve got to go out and embrace it and grab it like you’re starving every day.”
Bostic brings both the bark and a big appetite.