With rookie mini-camps in the books, we are now in the midst of OTA’s as coaching staffs get the chance to see which second-year players have put in the most offseason work in anticipation of training camp in August. This is an opportunity for them to show returning coaching staffs all of the hard work they have put in since the season ended and for those with new coaching staffs, a chance to make a good first impression. Here are four second-year possible breakout performers to watch heading in the 2014 season.
A second-round pick last year out of Florida, Bostic was expected to immediately compete for either the starting middle linebacker spot of the retired Brian Urlacher, or to be the heir apparent at the weakside spot of aging Lance Briggs. A two-year starter at Florida, Bostic graded out as the top linebacker from an athletic standpoint at the 2013 NFL Draft combine and was thought to be a perfect fit for the 4-3 defense. The 2013 season saw Bostic start in 9 games and amass 45 tackles with two sacks and one interception. While he did get on the field for 16 games, he did not make as big of an impact within the linebacker corps as was expected. Despite his toughness and down-hill playing style, Bostic had a difficult time when teams ran right at him. This subsequently led to the Bears moving him to weakside linebacker to begin this offseason where he is currently behind Lance Briggs on the depth chart.
I loved Bostic coming out of Florida and believe that he will eventually leap-frog D.J. Williams as the starter at the middle linebacker position. He is a three-down linebacker that can do it all.
Wilson was a 2nd round pick out of Washington State last year and essentially had a redshirt season his first year with the Bears as he saw playing time in 10 games, but only had 2 catches for 13 yards. With the release of Earl Bennett however, it has opened the way for Wilson to take over as the third wide receiver. Early reports from Bears camp are that Wilson has increased his weight from 185 to 205 and has looked very sharp so far in OTA’s. If he can keep his head on straight, Wilson has a chance to breakout in Marc Trestman’s high-powered offense this season.
Jones was the Packer’s first round pick last year out of UCLA. The 6-4 280 pound defensive end had a decent first season playing in Dom Caper’s 3-4 defense as he was able to record 3.5 sacks. This offseason head coach Mike McCarthy specifically singled out Jones as someone that they needed to get more consistency from. The UCLA product can become a dynamic 5-technique defensive end because of his ability to play both the run and rush the passer. He brings exceptional athleticism and speed for a man his size to the end position and can be a great compliment to OLB Clay Matthews III in rushing the passer if he comes ready to play every week.
Slay was the Lion’s second-round pick out of Mississippi State last year and had a pretty rocky rookie season, to say the least. He was consistently targeted by opposing QB’s and was beaten badly in games against the Bears where he was forced to cover All-Pro wideouts Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall. Despite a less than stellar first year, Slay has the talent to take a ginormous step this next year as he spent the offseason working with Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson and will benefit from new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s experience coaching defensive backs. Six-foot corners that run sub 4.4 40’s and have good hips are hard to find.