Israel Idonije, left, posted just five sacks last season despite playing opposite double-team magnet Julius Peppers.
That won’t change Idonije’s approach, and it appears at this point he’s not planning to concede anything.
“My mindset hasn’t changed at all,” Idonije said. “My focus every year is to get better, to be the best I can be. Every year I’ve been here, they’ve brought in guys. So the mindset is the same. Last year, the year before, every year I continue to work to get better.”
A nine-year veteran, Idonije acknowledges making it through a 2011 campaign was difficult because of a variety of nagging minor injuries. But he refused to make excuses for a dip in production. After a breakout season in 2010 in which Idonije racked up eight sacks, the veteran posted just five sacks despite the luxury of seeing more one-on-one matchups because of all the attention paid on the opposite side to Julius Peppers.
“I know for me personally, I had plenty of opportunities,” Idonije said. “I had a lot of quarterback hits and hurries. I have to translate those into sacks and that’s the bottom line for me.
Despite logging fewer sacks, Idonije set career highs in tackles (leading the defensive line with 57 stops), tackles for lost yardage (9) and fumble recoveries (2). Idonije also finished with 37 quarterback pressures, but his production in the pass-rushing department trailed down the stretch.
After racking up 24 quarterback pressures in the first eight games, Idonije pressured the quarterback just 13 times in the last eight outings.
“Last year was rough, a rough year for me. I had a lot going on,” Idonije said. “I was a little banged up, but I was fortunate that I played the season out, and I’m fortunate to be back for another year. This year it’s really about putting it all together (in) my third year as a starter, and taking that next step.”
But is that possible with a talented rookie in McClellin waiting to take Idonije’s job?
Idonije thinks so, and doesn’t find difficulty mentoring his potential replacement. The key, Idonije said, is “just finish(ing).
“I left a lot of plays on the field last year, literally just a step off,” Idonije said. “Being able to capitalize on those plays; that’s a game changer. That’s really for me the next step. I know the defense. I know how to read an offense. Now it’s just when I have the opportunity to make those plays, I’ve got to finish them.”