“You’ve got to be fast. You’re thinking out loud,” rookie linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “Jon will be screaming, ‘Alert this, alert that.’ I’m screaming, ‘Alert that under,’ or, ‘Alert this, hey, they’re coming here.’ He’s motioning in. Just talking about what you’re seeing and then together we’ll create a picture.”
Bostic has become the learned veteran in a meeting room full of young inside linebackers who have no choice but to learn quickly. Second-year pro Shaun Dion Hamilton is expected to start alongside Bostic at inside linebacker, and Holcomb is already the top backup. Josh Harvey-Clemons is on the field for most passing situations, but there is little clarity — or depth — on the roster beyond that. Bostic’s leadership has been pivotal in bringing the position group together after the loss of Foster and surprise release of 2018 starter Mason Foster just before training camp.
“I’d like to take credit for it … but [Bostic is] an experienced guy,” inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan said. “He’s really smart. I mean, off the chains smart. We were fortunate enough to get him. … He’s an excellent leader. And his voice is a booming voice on the field, and that’s what you need for a middle linebacker. He’s going to be excellent.”
Bostic has bounced around the NFL, and the Redskins are his fifth team since he was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Chicago Bears. But he has been a starter with three of his previous four organizations.
The team is hoping that having cerebral players — in addition to Bostic, Hamilton had the reputation of being a heady player at Alabama, and Holcomb has proved to be a quick study — will offset some of its youth. Bostic explained that when players can read the offense and get everyone lined up quickly, that two- to three-second head start provides time to diagnose the offensive formation and look for clues they have studied throughout the week. All of that allows everyone to play faster.
“I’m always preaching to the guys, everything starts with us,” Bostic said. “We’ve got to be able to communicate to the defensive line, get them lined up right. We’ve got to be on the same page because we play a lot of combo coverages, so if we’re not on the same page with them and one of us doesn’t see it the same time, or somebody sees it different over here, it’s going to leave a hole in our coverage and that’s what’s going to lead to an explosive play. And when you have too many explosive plays in a ballgame, you lose the game.”
Communication is so often mentioned as a key to a defense that it often comes across as coach-speak, but Bostic’s overall message seems to have resonated with the rest of his position group. It’s one thing to know the defense on an overall level, but it’s another to understand each individual’s responsibilities and shout out presnap instructions to get every defender on the same page. And while they may be young, particularly at linebacker, the Redskins hope that a higher level of thinking and organization can give more juice to their defense.
“It means a lot from the standpoint of putting in different pressures and different things you could be having across the board, in regards to game preparation and what they can handle and can’t handle,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “I’ve had players you can’t put too much on them. With these guys, you can put a decent amount of stuff on them and let them go play.”