BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – What a difference a year makes for Corey Wootton.
After injuries limited the Chicago Bears’ 2010 fourth-round pick to just 13 games over his first two seasons, Wootton was squarely on the roster bubble when the team reported to Bourbonnais last summer.
But not only did Wootton impress the coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the team, he went on to have the best season of his young NFL career by recording 7.0 sacks in 16 games and seven starts.
“It definitely is a different feel going into camp,” Wootton said following Saturday’s practice. “I didn’t know if I was going to make the team or not (last year). A lot of people were saying I was going to get cut. I really knew I had to prove myself.
“This year I approach it the same way. I’ve got to prove myself all over again, because every year in this league it doesn’t matter what you did the year before, it’s (what you are doing) currently. I’m just trying to improve, work every day and get better.”
One particular area of improvement Wootton is focusing on this summer is finishing plays around the opposing quarterback. Wootton described how he and the rest of the club’s defensive lineman have been watching what the coaches call “the close but no cigar reel” of plays during film sessions.
“We just have to make those close ones sacks,” Wootton said. “We ultimately could’ve led the league in sacks if we had half of those close but no cigar plays.
“The biggest thing is just finishing and reaching for the ball, which is something coach (Rod) Marinelli really stressed and coach (Mike) Phair stresses, is just reaching for the ball at the end because we were so close but we didn’t reach. If we would’ve reached (on those plays) it probably would have ended with a bunch of sack fumbles for us.”
The Bears felt so confident in Wootton that the organization allowed veteran defensive end Israel Idonije and his 7.5 sacks from last year to leave in the offseason and sign with the division rival Detroit Lions. Throughout the first two practices of training camp, Wootton and Shea McClellin have been sharing the reps with the first team at the end spot opposite Julius Peppers. At one point on Saturday morning both Wootton and McClellin were on the field at the same time while Peppers got a breather on the sidelines.
“Really like what I’ve seen (from Wootton),” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “(He’s got a) great demeanor, loves football, is extremely athletic and highly competitive. He’s a fun guy to be around, always got a smile on his face if you’ve ever had a chance to speak with him.”
Wootton earned a boost in pay this season when he hit an escalator clause based on his and the team’s 2012 performance that more than doubled what his base salary was supposed to be in 2013 based on the original rookie contract he signed in 2010. But the real money for Wootton can come next offseason when he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. It stands the reason the organization would make an attempt to re-sign the 6-6, 270-pound Wootton if he continues to develop on the field.
“The biggest thing, not so much focusing on the deal, is just going out there and putting the best film down I can and helping our team,” Wootton said. “If I do that everything will take care of itself.”