Chicago Bears: Mark Anderson
"I'm not really thinking about five years ago," Anderson said when asked to compare the pair of Super Bowl defeats. "I wanted to get the victory tonight. We were close, but not close enough. The Giants won so my hats off to them."
Anderson got off to fast start Sunday night. He recorded a sack against New York quarterback Eli Manning on the Giants' first offensive possession, and finished the game with a productive 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss and a pair of quarterback hits. But overall, the New England defense did not generate enough pressure, according to Anderson.
Manning was sacked just three times on 40 pass attempts, and was able to complete 5 of 6 passes for 76 yards on New York's game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
Compare that to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was either sacked or under duress during half of his dropbacks in the fourth quarter, and hit five times on the games final drive, per ESPN Stats & Information.
"We let them sneak away with that win right there," Anderson said. "The defense didn't stop them at the end, so I'll take the blame for that. I felt like I could have gotten more pressure. That's what I do; I pressure the quarterback to help the team out. I wish I could have got to him more often.
"We went over this all week. It's the same offense that we played earlier in the system. It's the same personnel, the same team, we knew we had to stop the run. But we needed to get after Eli more. That's my main thing. I wish we could have rushed a little better."
Anderson, selected in round No. 5 of the 2006 NFL draft, burst onto the scene as a rookie with a team-high 12 sacks, and was a valuable member of a defense that propelled the Bears to a berth in Super Bowl XLI.
Then it all began to unravel.
The Bears made Anderson a starter the following season. He lost his starting job then he lost his job period when the Bears released the pass-rusher in 2010. After a stint in Houston, Anderson found new life in New England, where he recorded 11 combined sacks for the AFC champion Patriots.
Surrounded by media at his own reserved section at Super Bowl XLVI media day Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Anderson admitted he took the initial trip to the Super Bowl for granted.
“Honestly it’s true," Anderson said. "After my first year in the league, I knew we would go back. I thought all you had to do was win a majority of the games in the regular season and then win out in the playoffs. We didn’t even make the playoffs my other four years with the Bears. This is my first year coming back to the playoffs, five years later."
Five years later, Anderson has re-made himself. A terrific situational pass-rusher early in career with the Bears, he now finds himself in playing in New England's hybrid 3-4 defense, as opposed to the 4-3 front used in Chicago.
The way Anderson sees it, the Patriots' defense affords him the opportunity to showcase his biggest football strength: athleticism.
"I really like the different packages and stuff, the freedom we have and different things I can do," Anderson said. "It's a fun defense. Once you understand what you need to do, you can really make a lot of plays and contribute a lot. I'm doing different packages at outside linebacker and defense end, so I just try to make the most of it at all times. If you're real athletic, you can rush out of the two-point or you can rush out of the three-point, you can do a lot of things. You can even drop back in coverage if you have to. It really can highlight your athleticism."
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Editor’s note: As the Bears prepare for their season-opener against the Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday, ESPNChicago.com breaks down the roster by position. Here's a look at the defensive line in this fifth installment.
Julius Peppers rag-dolled offensive tackles, exploded past them off the edge, and hurried worried quarterbacks regularly in limited preseason action.
That’s what the Bears paid for in handing Peppers $42 million guaranteed. The key now, though, is to coax the rest of a defensive line -- which is expected to see more one-on-one matchups with the arrival of Peppers -- to perform similarly.
The concept seems simple: Offenses will devote schemes and manpower to neutralize Peppers, thus freeing up other defensive linemen such as defensive tackle Tommie Harris, nose tackle Anthony Adams, and ends Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije to take advantage of one-one-one matchups. The reality, however, is what looks appealing on paper doesn’t always translate on the field.
That still doesn’t temper the club’s expectations.
“All of our guys who’ve played at an elite level, we’re expecting them to play better ball this year,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said in discussing Harris’ prospects for the upcoming season.
Outside of Peppers, who has averaged 10 sacks, in addition to forcing four fumbles per season over eight years, Harris -- who claims to be in his healthiest state in recent years -- could be one of the unit’s most determining factors for success. The expectation is for Harris to return to Pro Bowl form by utilizing his immense quickness to pressure passers up the middle while blockers are preoccupied with Peppers.
“We expect him to play the type of football that a player like Tommie is capable,” Smith said. “He’s a good player, been an all-Pro player, and we expect him to play at that form.”
The Bears should demand such production from both Harris and Peppers, considering they’ve invested in them a combined $60 million in guaranteed money. The duo could use help from Adams, Anderson, and Idonije, along with key reserves such as Marcus Harrison, Matt Toeaina, and Henry Melton, who figure to play vital roles in the defensive line rotation.
Since Smith took over as coach in 2004, just two Bears achieved double-digit sack seasons. Anderson, who plays defensive end opposite Peppers, made 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, but has since tallied a combined nine sacks over the last past three seasons. Idonije partners with Anderson opposite Peppers. Despite playing six seasons for the Bears, Idonije has managed to net just eight career sacks, which clearly isn’t enough.
While bundles of sacks in 2010 aren’t necessarily paramount, consistent pressure from the front four is important because it allows flexibility on the back end. The Bears can’t afford to be forced into blitzing at a high rate to manufacture pressure, because it puts the secondary in vulnerable man-coverage situations.
“Are we going to be able to generate enough with our front four’s pass rush or aren’t we?” asked general manager Jerry Angelo in discussing the staff’s challenges in putting together a solid defense. “Or are we going to have to do more zone-blitzing? We need to figure out who we are. The guys we’re paying money to, the guys you’re building off of, they’ve got to play to their ceilings.”Best-case scenario
Motivated to prove he’s worth the financial commitment, Peppers performs better than expected, and Harris returns to Pro Bowl form, while Adams continues his quiet steadiness as a run defender. If Anderson and Idonije manage to beat some of the one on ones brought about by extra attention paid to Peppers, the Bears can expect to generate plenty of heat, which in turn could lead to errant throws and interceptions. Rotational players such as Harrison and Toeaina also play huge roles in making the defensive line go, because they’ll be counted upon to win matchups with offensive linemen who’ve been worn down by Peppers, Harris, Adams and the combination of Anderson and Idonije.Worst-case scenario
A serious injury to Peppers would be the worst, but a more likely scenario is Harris continues his mediocre play, and the rest of the defensive line fails to consistently win their respective matchups. It’s almost a given that teams will more or less shut down Peppers in some games because they’ll devote so much to taking neutralizing him. If the rest of the unit can’t beat one on ones brought on by all the attention given to Peppers, it’s almost as if the club wasted the money it spent on the defensive end. Another worst-case, yet realistic scenario based on the team’s preseason performances, would be a continued inability to consistently stop the run. If the defensive line can’t stuff the run, it can’t force teams to be one dimensional. That would make the Bears drop a safety into the box as a run defender, which in turn, would diminish the secondary’s ability to defend.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo can't figure it out, either.
"I can't say specifically why [he hasn't been more productive since rookie season], because the guy works his tail off; great effort on game day," Angelo said Tuesday on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "He did do it his rookie year. He has great athleticism. The only thing I can say, and it's an opinion, I can't substantiate it, he presses. Maybe it's feel. Maybe the opponents saw something and figured something out. I can't really put a handle on it because it really is surprising to me, because he had that success.
"With the way he worked and that athleticism, usually you would say he would come close to that rookie year. But we're expecting and hoping to see a great year from him. It's more being able to finish a blocker when he gets up field. You have to have that little something, that little feel to make that little counter move, know when to pull the trigger. That's probably something he hasn't been consistent with or doing well enough."
In addition to speaking extensively about the fifth-year defensive end, Angelo delved into Brett Favre's retirement plans, Julius Peppers, and the pressure the organization faces in 2010 to produce a winner.
Angelo said, "I want to see it to believe it," when asked his thoughts on Favre. "It's still a long time before the season."
Regarding Peppers, Angelo said he doesn't "see any reason why he can't be the most dominant defensive lineman in the game this year. The expectations for him are very, very high. I'm looking for an MVP year out of Julius, and I would say if he were sitting here, he would say the same thing. The one thing that really impressed me about him personally is the way he worked in the offseason. He made every practice, the weight room, OTAs, whatever."
The organization enters a 2010 season in which it's believed that Angelo and Lovie Smith could be out of jobs if the club doesn't display marked improvement from last year's 7-9 finish. Angelo said the added pressure to produce a winner isn't keeping "anybody up later at night."
In fact, Angelo called it "great."
"Anybody can be average," Angelo said. "One thing I want to make sure to you and our fans , [is] you create the fear. Our focus is on the things we can control, the task at hand. The task at hand is winning the championship. We're not working any harder because of whatever the perception is of what we have to do. We know what we have to do. We're working hard at doing it, and we feel very good going into the season."
Angelo called quarterback Jay Cutler and offensive coordinator Mike Martz a pair that is "on a mission," adding that the marriage between the two has been close to ideal, in addition to touching on issues in the Bears' secondary.
Angelo said the club decided to switch cornerback Zack Bowman from the right side to the left side because Bowman "at this point is our most athletic corner." Bowman's move forced eight-year veteran Charles Tillman, who has started 94 of his 98 career at left cornerback, to the right side.
"Peanut's still a very good corner, and we have a lot of confidence in him. But Zack's done some very good things. We've all seen him do some things last year with interceptions. [The left side is] the cover position. That's the position where offenses go down field with the ball. We feel [Bowman] puts us in the best position to get those takeaways."
Wootton claims to be fully recovered from that devastating 2008 knee injury, which resulted in the defensive end's sack total dropping from 10 to four his final season at Northwestern.
"It was definitely a tough road to recovery, doing all the strength and range of motion work to get things to 100 percent," Wootton said. "It feels great to finally be there and be able to go through camp 100 percent unlike last year."
Just being healthy isn't enough for Wootton to earn playing time. Since being drafted by the Bears in late April, Wootton has spent time observing Peppers, trying to pick up tricks of the trade.
"I'm similar in height to him [Peppers], so I really notice how low he plays," Wootton said. "That's what I'm trying to strive for, the pad level. It's tough being 6-6 or 6-7 and staying low. He does a tremendous job of doing that and being able to come off fast and use his hands very well. I'm trying to learn whatever I can from him. He's definitely a leader by example, and I'm just trying to follow what he does.
"I just want to continue to improve in everything, pass rush, hands, footwork and everything. Now with pads, we can being physical with everything unlike OTAs."
It's almost like Anderson's phenomenal rookie season, 12 regular-season sacks, keeps coming back to haunt the former fifth-round selection. Almost every question posed to Anderson the last three years centers around the same theme; why has your production dropped off so sharply since 2006?
"I'm not really trying to speak on the last couple of years," Anderson said Friday. "This is a new year, got new goals, new personnel. We're ready to just go out here and go hard. Last year, that's the past. You learn from it, build on it and get better.
"I always go back and review my past years. I try to apply that and see what I did wrong and then try to do better the upcoming year."
For all those wondering where it went wrong, Anderson admitted making at least one mistake in previous seasons: trying out too many new moves.
"I just went back to basics, fundamentals," Anderson said. "Getting off the ball is the No. 1 key, and after that just sticking to what I do best. [I have] one goal, and that's getting to the quarterback.
"No new moves. It's all the same basic moves, it's just strictly fundamentals for me. Just the same speed rush and counter, that's it."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Fifth-year defensive end Mark Anderson is expected to get the first crack at replacing former starter Alex Brown at the end spot opposite newcomer Julius Peppers, but veteran lineman Israel Idonije remains in the mix to challenge Anderson for a spot on the first team.
"Absolutely, I'm coming into work knowing the position and knowing the defense," Idonije said Thursday, when asked if it would be a mistake to assume Anderson has the job locked up. "Mark has played it consistently for the last number of years. This is my first full year playing at that end spot, so I'm just coming in to give everything that I have. At the end of the day, I know I'm going to get on the field and play.
“At the end of the day, we dress three defensive ends that have to be productive. All three guys. I just want to win games, get a lot of sacks, get to the quarterback. First, second, third [in the defensive end rotation], I'm not worried about it."
Bouncing from end to defensive tackle the past few seasons, Idonije bullked up to the 285-290 pound range to better handle the rigors of playing the interior defensive line position. Idonije lost approximatly 20 pounds for his move back outside, where speed becomes a larger factor when trying to pressure the quarterback.
"I think physically [6-6, 265 pounds] I'm more suited for that end spot," Idonije said. "I think the end spot fits me a little better. I'm fortunate I was able to put on the weight and play at the defensive tackle position and have some success there. For me, whatever they need me to do, I'm going to strap it up and play to the best of my ability."
Idonije, who signed an extension with the Bears prior to last season, has tallied eight career regular season sacks, six of those coming in the past two years.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
Prized free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers (81 career regular-season sacks) instantly improves the Bears' pass rush. That much is certain. It's the rest of the defensive line that remains somewhat of a question mark entering the 2010 season.
In the three years since Super Bowl 41, one of the Bears' biggest problems has been their inability to consistently harass the quarterback. Everything about the defense is predicated on the ability of the front four to generate pressure, and when it fails to happen, things tend to fall apart.
The Bears made it a point to revamp the defensive end position this offseason, signing Peppers while saying good-bye to veterans Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. Last year, the two former starters combined for 12.5 sacks, only two more than Peppers tallied by himself during his final campaign in Carolina.
But at the other defensive end spot, new starter Mark Anderson registered only 3.5 sacks, a far cry from his breakout rookie year in 2006 when he had 12. To further complicate matters, Anderson has been in this position before. He was elevated to first string in 2007, but was unable to effectively play both the pass and run, and eventually lost to starting position back to Brown. What has Anderson done to restore the Bears' faith in him? Why was Brown deemed expendable? These are question only Anderson can answer by his performance on the field. The Bears do have plenty of depth at defensive end in the form of Israel Idonije, Jarron Gilbert and rookie Corey Wootton, but it may be unfair to expect any of the reserves to put up high sack totals.
Conventional wisdom suggests Peppers' arrival should loosen things up inside for tackles Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison. At least that's the hope. Adams is a dependable interior lineman, but he's much more proficient at stopping the run as opposed to taking down the quarterback. Harris and Harrison are supposed to be the difference makers. Although Harris didn't play poorly last year, he hasn't been a consistent disruptive force since 2007, the season before he signed a four-year extension. Harrison is extremely talented, but sidetracked by personal issues and illness the last two offseasons.
If Harris, surgery-free this offseason for the first time in recent memory, and Harrison find a way to put it all together, the Bears should be dangerous up front. And if the Bears get after the quarterback, the defense will regain its swagger. But if they don't, Peppers can't possibly be expected to do it all by himself. We've all seen firsthand the effects of a below average pass rush.
It's no longer a cliche when Lovie Smith says "it all starts up front." That could be the theme for 2010.
Unlike offensive and defensive linemen, it's easier to evaluate quarterback play during a non-padded minicamp. This weekend marks the first time Cutler will be on display working with his receivers as they run Martz's precise patterns. We may also get a glimpse at how the Bears plan to utilize tight end Greg Olsen. But for all the attention this offseason paid to tight ends, receivers, and Cutler’s protection up front, the Bears' offense will sink or swim based on the quarterback’s fortunes.
True to his style, Urlacher stayed fairly quiet this offseason. But all reports regarding Urlacher’s voluntary workouts have been positive. When Urlacher takes the field Friday, it will be the first time anybody outside of Halas Hall has seen the middle linebacker in action in eight months.
There also appears to be some uncertainty at defensive tackle, where Tommie Harris is enjoying his first surgery-free offseason in recent memory. Harris remains a major wildcard in this whole equation, considering he's shown: the ability to dominate games from his under-tackle position and the ability to completely disappear from time to time. If Harris can get his mind and body right, he and Peppers could form a scary duo. The Bears would also benefit from a playmaker at nose tackle. Veteran Anthony Adams is a hard-working, dependable leader, but Marcus Harrison needs to take that next step. Up to this point, conditioning issues have prevented Harrison from living up to his full potential. It'll be interesting to see how Harrison looks and moves this weekend, because he possesses the athletic ability to dominate inside, but only if/when he remedies the bad habits.
Chicago drafted Major Wright (third round) and brought back Chris Harris in a trade to add to a talent mix that includes Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. Efficient play at safety is one of the key factors to success in a Cover-2 based scheme. Although the roster appears to contain the required individual talent to achieve strong play at the position, the club needs to find the perfect combination at safety, which isn’t always easy.
Manning and Steltz worked with the first team during voluntary offseason workouts, but it’s likely the Bears will roll out several combinations at the position during minicamp. It’s believed that the Bears envision using Manning mostly at strong safety this season, which would mean Harris, Wright and Steltz could be fighting for the open spot at free safety. But based on the depth of the position on paper, some of the safeties could be used solely in situational roles.
As it stands, the Bears receivers are certainly an explosive group with speedsters such as Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in the mix along with Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, Juaquin Iglesias and Davis. But they're young. Martz’s intricate system relies on timing and route precision, traits seen mostly in veteran receivers. The club shouldn’t have a problem with coaxing such attributes out of the current group. The concern would be whether the Bears can get the receivers to gel quickly enough for the club to take advantage of their immense athleticism paired with Cutler’s strong arm by Week 1.
Veteran minicamp will provide at least some indication as to how far the group has progressed. Given the collective talent at the position and Martz’s fast-break system, Chicago’s receivers -- if they can pick up the system quickly -- could be primed for a banner year.
A fifth-year veteran, Anderson has started in 17 of 62 games for the Bears, contributing 120 tackles, 21.5 sacks, in addition to five forced fumbles, 13 tackles for lost yardage and seven pass breakups.
As a rookie, Anderson racked up 12 sacks, most ever by a Chicago rookie since 1993, when Richard Dent tallied 13.5 sacks.
Anderson received a second-round tender offer from the team, which means if he would have signed an offer sheet with another team during the free-agency period, the new club would have been required to give the Bears a second-round draft pick in 2011 as compensation.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.
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"