Seeing your name on the Chicago Bears depth chart as Brian Urlacher's primary backup can be intimidating. Just ask rookie Dom DeCicco, a 6-4 23-year-old former safety from Pittsburgh who was signed by Chicago as undrafted free agent last summer. DeCicco tells Bears Report about his experiences so far in the NFL.
"I've got to be honest here. The whole thing can get relatively stressful at times. No, make that really stressful, most of the time. But I wouldn't trade the life that I have right now for anything. I can't thank Brian [Urlacher] enough for his patience and for all the help he has given me this season as far as easing my adjustment into the NFL.
"That is one of the first things I noticed about this team after coming to training camp this past summer: everybody supports each other. You need some help? Then, go to a teammate and tell him what you need. Chances are he'll do anything he can to assist.
"There are many stars in terms of ability on this team, but nobody is a prima donna. They are very much down-to-earth type guys; the kind of people you're glad to hang out with during your off time. I think that is very unusual in the NFL.
"This spring after the draft was unbelievably difficult. I think any rookie you talked to this year would say the same thing. We knew where we would end up ultimately but had no idea when, or eve if, that would happen in time for the 2011 season.
LB Dom DeCicco
"What I did was try to stay in it mentally while keeping up with my conditioning program. I contacted my college trainers and they helped me devise a workout program. I was extremely careful to follow a good diet and to keep my body rested. The reason for all of that was, of course, that we didn't know if the call to report to camp would come early or late in the summer, or at all.
"Once the strike ended, the calls came in quickly. I had to pack my stuff immediately and head to Chicago. I wasn't familiar with the area and I didn't really get to see much of the city until camp was done in August. I did get to know Bourboonais fairly well, though.
"The first thing that struck me about training camp was the intensity. We were going almost 24 hours a day. And since as a rookie I had lost considerable time acclimating myself to the system during the strike time period, I was studying pretty much all of the time.
"I came from a rigorous college football program. In retrospect, I can see that I was incredibly naive. It's true that there is not the distraction of classes in the NFL but the flip side of that is that this is now your job. Everybody is hungry to do well and to stick on the roster so the level of competition is fierce. There were a lot of rookies in Bourbonnais and you can be sure that every single one wanted to be listed on the roster in the fall.
"Personally, I had to reconstruct my game from the ground up. In college I was a safety. I played that position in high school as well. Although I have the size to be a linebacker, I wasn't that confident that I could pick up the technique in time.
"I worked piece by piece on what I needed to do. I watched film. I watched the veterans and tried to pick out the most effective techniques and the situations in which these techniques would be effective. The coaches gave me a lot of help and were willing to work with me even after the day's practice for the team was over.
"Now I feel much more comfortable and am looking to take my game to the next level.
"This past weekend my family came in to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was great and was the perfect opportunity to relax. We have a tough stretch of games coming up and I want to function at my best.
"Oakland will be quite an experience. I've heard that the crowd noise is incredible. But I am not distracted by things like that. I have enough to think about just trying to be effective and make plays.
"I think the team is focused and ready to finish out the season. We are sorry to have lost [Jay] Cutler and [Patrick] Mannelly but have confidence in their replacements. We expect to go forward from here and have a successful finish."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.