Ever since the Bears started asking Israel Idonije to do less, he's done more.
For his first six seasons, Idonije was the Bears' jack of all trades, playing both defensive end positions, the three-technique defensive tackle spot and nose tackle, plus playing on all the special teams, blocking for returns, running down under kicks and blocking kicks.
But this year, Idonije was told to focus on just playing defensive end.
Well, that and blocking for kickoff returns and trying to block field goals and extra points. But no more nose tackle, no more three-technique tackle, no more moving around from position to position and no more playing on all the special teams.
The results have been impressive. Idonije's five sacks are more than the next three Bears combined and have already exceeded his previous single-season best of 3.5. His critical blocked extra point Sunday in his return to Canada was the seventh of his career, moving him into third place all time since that became an official statistic in 1992.
Idonije, who was born in Nigeria but raised in Manitoba, Canada, said the reason for his emergence from role player to impact player this year is simple.
"In the past, I've played everything," he said. "So every week I'd have to study end, three technique, nose, kickoffs, kick return, punt return. There's so much going on. Now, all I do is study my end position every week. I look at the two tackles that I'm playing against, so my workload has been cut dramatically. When you do that, your production's got to go up. Fortunately, I've been able to get a little more production and, hopefully, will keep doing it."
Idonije came to training camp this year pitted against Mark Anderson for the starting job opposite Julius Peppers. With former starters Alex Brown cut and Adewale Ogunleye not re-signed, a job share between Idonije and Anderson was expected. But the 6-6, 270-pound Idonije quickly asserted himself as a player who deserved to be on the field as much as possible, not playing in a rotation. So Anderson was cut and Idonije, for the first time in his NFL career, had a position all to himself.
"He's evolved," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He started as a special-teams guy, went to [part-time] defensive end, defensive tackle, now he's our starting defensive end. He's gotten better every year. They still use him on special teams every once in a while. He does everything."
Ironically, even though Idonije is playing fewer position, he's getting more playing time than he did in the past, which has also helped his production. Ideally, playing in a rotation with other players keeps all the principals fresh, but staying on the field longer is Idonije's preference
"Being on the field consistently is better in my opinion," he said. "Getting [more] reps and just getting a feel for the game. You get into a better rhythm that way, rather than rotating six plays in, six plays off. It's tough to get into a rhythm that way and get into the flow of the game and setting a guy up. Being able to get in consistently and get a feel for what's going on and how I want to rush and attack a guy helps production and helps overall play."
Sunday in Canada, Idonije's football career came full circle. He didn't play the game until he was 17 and a high school senior in Manitoba, but when he returned for the first time as a pro, he put on a show for the home crowd. Idonije had half a sack, three tackles and three quarterback pressures to go along with his blocked kick.
"It's just a moment that you cherish and you'll always remember," he said. "Playing an NFL game on Canadian soil. [My] college coach is watching. [My] high school coach is watching. It's just one of those moments. I got a lot of calls and congratulations and just a lot of people happy to be a part of the story and the journey to this point. It was a truly exciting moment."
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