With just under two minutes left in the third quarter, the Colts lined up for a first down at Chicago's 41-yard line. QB Andrew Luck was under center with three receivers bunched to his left and another receiver wide right. The Bears countered with a nickel package. DE Corey Wootton was lined up on the left edge and DE Julius Peppers was on the right edge.
At the snap, Luck dropped back to pass. Wootton worked straight up field against T Jeff Linkenbach. Wootton ripped to the outside then got leverage under Linkenbach's pads, driving the blocker backward. Wootton then cut back inside and collapsed the pocket, hitting Luck as he was trying to throw and forcing a fumble. The ball fluttered to Peppers, who dove on it for the turnover.
The Bears had a 20-point lead at this point in the game but the Colts were driving toward making it a two-score game with a quarter to play. Yet Wootton's sack/strip helped Chicago retain that three-score cushion and ultimately win the game.
This play was very significant for Wootton. Previous to Sunday, his only career sack came in 2010 against the Minnesota Vikings, when he ended Brett Favre's career. Since then, Wootton has struggled with injuries. He opened training camp last year with exceptional explosiveness and appeared poised to take the next step as a pass rusher. But a knee injury early in the preseason, followed by a broken wrist, made 2011 a forgettable season for him.
"[Sunday's game] felt good just because I've been working all training camp, all offseason to get back to the point where I knew I could be," Wootton told Bear Report. "Last season was a tough year for me. I put that in the past and just started working forward."
The 6-6, 270 pounder out of Northwestern is entering his third NFL season. Despite a lot of potential, Wootton's injuries have never allowed him to develop into a consistent pass rusher. Yet this year he's healthy and it appears he could be a force off the edge for the Bears in 2012.
"I thought I did some good things [in the game]," he said. "But here or there, I gotta improve a little bit. I try to be tough on myself just because you never want to be content."
For any NFL defensive lineman, getting to the quarterback is the ultimate individual reward. It proves your value to the defense, while sacks often swing a game's momentum. Wootton's sack in the third quarter did just that. It justified the club again taking a chance on his potential, while helping the Bears seal the victory.
"I was getting up-field, got a pretty good get-off on him, got the tackle to turn, just humped him by," Wootton said of the sack. "I came through and was able to hit the ball out and Pep recovered it."
Despite a solid opening performance by the defense – the group had three sacks and forced five turnovers – Wootton said there is still room for improvement.
"We always want to improve because you never want to be satisfied or content with anything you're doing," he said. "[Coordinator Rod Marinelli] is always on us about everything we do. He wants perfection and that's what we try to give him."
If Wootton can build on yesterday's success going forward, Chicago's pass rush will be formidable this season.
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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.