|ESPN.com: Chicago Bears||[Print without images]|
MIAMI -- After fielding a slew of questions about having to face Peyton Manning on Sunday, New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper was happy to spend a few minutes talking about former Alabama teammate and current Bears defensive end Mark Anderson.
Harper and Anderson, both selected in the 2006 draft, make it a point to get together every offseason in Tuscaloosa.
"I was cheering so hard for the guy when we first got into the league," Harper said Wednesday. "Think about it, we had [Houston Texans linebacker] DeMeco Ryans win the defensive rookie of the year in 2006, Mark Anderson finished second, and I was playing well until I got hurt. All of us having a big rookie year was so cool to see."
While Harper has continued to flourish in the Saints secondary, Anderson hasn't been able to recapture the magic of that rookie season, when he lead the Bears with 12 sacks. In the past three seasons combined, Anderson has only taken down the quarterback 9.5 times, and lost the starting job he was given in 2007 the following season.
"Here's what happened to M.A. in the second year; it's a lot tougher when everybody knows who you are," Harper said. "I think he was playing a little more on first and second down, where during his rookie year, he was able to come in on third down and be a fresh guy. It's a lot easier to get sacks when tackles don't know much about you and you come off the bench fresh. He was able to have a little more burst off the ball compared to Alex Brownand [Adewale] Ogunleye, and that helped him out but hurt him his second year."
"He definitely wants to play all the time, because that's just M.A., and I do think he can do both, but playing against the run all the time hurts his pass rush. He really is a pass rush specialist."
Some may argue Anderson wasn't really that good in the first place -- he was a fifth-round pick -- but Harper disagrees.
"The thing that hurt him in college was our defense. He hated it, but we played a 30 defense that featured three down linemen. He got more double teams and things like that because we played a lot of coverage behind them. That's the only that hurt him stats-wise (13.5 career sacks at Alabama), but M.A. always had the skills"