Drafted in the second round (39th overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009, Britton immediately became a starter, joining fellow rookie Eugene Monroe as the first pair of rookies to start at tackle for a team on opening day since 1982.
Now, Britton’s merely No. 62, a player hardly anyone recognizes and hardly a lock to make the roster.
At just 25, Britton enters his fifth NFL season, having started in 30 of 37 career games (23 starts at right tackle and seven at left guard). Britton put together a solid rookie year in 2009 with 15 starts at right tackle, but landed on the injured reserve in 2010 and 2011 with shoulder and back problems. In 2012, subpar play led to Britton being benched in back-to-back games, during a season he finished with just five starts.
In April, the Bears extended an opportunity for redemption. Britton wants to take full advantage and become a starter again, but also understands the challenge he's facing.
Britton spoke with ESPNChicago.com after Monday's practice, and here's what he had to say about his career sliding in Jacksonville, how he's learned humility through the experience, his fresh start in Chicago and his desire to become a starter again:
How are you embracing the new team and situation, and do you think you'll ever become a starter again?
Eben Britton: I really just look at this as a time to grow as a player. I'm learning a lot of great stuff from [offensive coordinator Aaron] Kromer. It's really been a learning experience to expand my football knowledge, my knowledge and experience as a player. Do I want to start? Of course. But I'm coming into a new team where they have guys who've been here. You've got to earn that position. So really, I'm just using this training camp to come out every day and just get a little bit better, and leave it all out here. At the end of training camp hopefully I'm one of the starting five. Hopefully my work speaks to the coaches and tells them that I deserve to be one of those five guys.
All those years in Jacksonville, there never seemed to be a question about you in terms of you making the roster. It was always pretty much understood you'd be in the starting lineup. Now, you're in a situation where hardly anyone even knows you. Is it difficult?
EB: I was actually thinking about this the other day. It's different. I've been a starter my entire life. But this is good too. As tough as last year was for me as a player, I learned a lot from that. I learned a lot about my experience in this game, what I want out of this game, what I can get from the game as far as life lessons and humility, you know, all the things you hear all the time. But you don't get that when you're "the guy" all the time. You know what I mean? You can use this or bleep it or whatever, but you really have to get your [butt] kicked to really understand what it means to have to work for something. I've always worked my [butt] off. I always have. I think that's why I had been a starter for so long. I had a few rough years with injuries, and some bad luck, and just whatever it was. Last year really taught me about being humble. Coming here, I've found my joy for just playing football again. I just love being out here and running around. I'm expanding my understanding of everything that's going on out on the field rather than just being like, 'What do I have to do?' So I've got nothing but love and respect for Jacksonville giving me my opportunity in the NFL, and all the years I had there. I learned a lot there. But coming here is just a great opportunity for me to just continue to grow as a football player, an athlete and even as a person. I'm not looking at it like, 'I'm [ticked] off' that I'm not starting. I'm looking at as like, 'What do I need to get better at?' and not taking it for granted that I'm one of the starting guys.
At least the level of pressure you feel has to be different now, right?
EB: Yeah, definitely. I think that I've learned better how to be a pro. Now it's like, if you mess up one play, don't kill yourself over it. Learn from it, and get better as a player from that experience. This is my fifth year in the NFL and I feel like just now this year I'm understanding what it is to play offensive line. I feel like I've just been like a bull in a China shop for my entire career. Through high school, through college, I was just a big, strong kid who was a good athlete. I was smart, and I loved to play. But I would just run and hit people, and that's just kind of the way I approached it. Just go as hard as you can all the time. Really, playing offensive line is so much more than that. It's like a very -- this may sound corny -- but it's like a very Zen position. Pass protection is like dancing with a person, you know what I mean? What you do is gonna create a response in the person that you're going against. You start to understand that when you do something one way, they're gonna respond a certain way. If you do it another way, they're gonna respond a little bit differently. So I feel like in my fifth year, I'm really starting to -- just from a very cerebral standpoint -- understand the position a lot better. I'm just loving playing right now.
What took you so long to get to this point?
EB: I just don't think I ever thought about it before. I just came and played. I never spent the time thinking about the little details, like a four-inch step, how important something like that can be.