Chicago Bears defensive end Corey Wootton is best known by most Bears fans as the man who ended Brett Favre's career. In his rookie season in 2010, in a Week 15 contest against the Minnesota Vikings, Wootton broke through the offensive line untouched and slammed Favre to the ground.
The hit knocked Favre out of the game and it ended up being the last play of the future Hall of Famer's career.
Since then Wootton has been a relatively nonexistent member of Chicago's roster. Yet he believes this season will be his breakthrough campaign. In order to accomplish that goal though, Wootton will have to beat out Chauncey Davis and the team's first-round rookie Shea McClellin in next month's training camp.
"I have confidence in my ability," Wootton told Bear Report. "The biggest thing is just getting out there and staying healthy."
DE Corey Wootton
Wootton's numerous injuries have stalled what was once a very promising career. During his collegiate career at Northwestern, he dealt with a neck injury that cost him almost all of his first season in 2005. In 2006, he was named a Freshman All-American selection by the Football Writers Association of America.
He had highly productive seasons in 2007 and 2008, yet tore up his knee in the Alamo Bowl following the 2008 season. He had surgery in January 2009 to repair the knee and subsequently struggled his senior season. He likely would have been a first- or second-round pick following his 2008 campaign, yet the injury led to him dropping to the Bears in the fourth round in 2010.
In his rookie season, Wootton worked to get his knee back to full strength and appeared completely healthy last offseason. During 2011 training camp, Wootton was arguably Chicago's most exciting defensive end not named Julius Peppers. It finally appeared he had turned a corner and was ready to live up to his potential.
Yet on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game, Wootton ran down the field in coverage and twisted his knee as he slowed up to make a tackle. He ended up having arthroscopic surgery to repair meniscus damage in his right knee. He missed the remainder of the preseason as well as the first three games of the regular season before returning in Week 4, just in time to break his hand.
The two injuries severely limited his production in 2011 and he ended the year without a sack and just four total tackles.
"It was very frustrating, just because I came into training camp really showing [the coaches] what I could do and they were excited about it," said Wootton. "Unfortunately I kind of got set back by the knee injury and then when I came back I broke my hand and got set back by that. But I'm just looking forward to this season and really showing them what I can do."
Wootton's past injuries make him a big risk for the club heading into 2012. Peppers and Israel Idonije will be the starters at defensive end, and McClellin will get his reps as well. The club usually carries four defensive ends, meaning Wootton will have to beat out Davis for the final roster spot, a competition for which he can't wait.
"When you have competition it makes guys better," Wootton said. "I'm looking to push myself to the limit and those guys will be pushing each other and getting the best out of everybody."
Chicago's coaches are likely reluctant to rely on a player that still has yet to show he can stay healthy, meaning Wootton will have to be doubly impressive next month if he's going to make the final 53-man roster.
"The biggest thing is to show them in training camp, from the first practice to the first preseason game to the last one. Show them what I can do and how I can help this team," said Wootton. "I control my own destiny, just going out there and showing them what I can. I've showed them a little bit so far but really show them when we get the pads on."
Wootton could be a breakthrough player this season if his body holds up – unfortunately, considering his injury history, that appears to be a big if.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.