Anthony Walters knows all about proving himself. After all, he came into the NFL in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from Delaware, not exactly a hotbed for pro prospects.
After making the Chicago Bears practice squad following training camp, Walters was elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 6. He played in four games and recorded one tackle before landing on IR for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury.
"It was a setback and I was discouraged, but what could I do but wait that out?" Walters said this week.
After a full recovery, Walters again earned a spot on the roster this season. He has served in a reserve role all season, working mainly on special teams. Yet fresh opportunity arose this week with Craig Steltz going on injured reserve with a torn pectoral. Walters now moves up the depth chart and will serve as the primary backup to both starting safeties.
"You never want one of your teammates to go down," Walters said. "And having been there myself last year, I understand how disheartening it can be to be placed on IR. But now that he's out, I will take all the game time I can get and perform to the best of my abilities."
S Anthony Walters
The drop off in experience from Walters to Steltz is stark. As a fifth-year safety, Steltz has a career total of 83 tackles. To date, Walters has 10 tackles.
"My role on special teams will stay the same," said Walters. "And as far as defense, I'm just the next guy in. That's how it goes. One guy's down, you're the next guy in."
When asked if he's ready to step in as needed, Walters said it's all a matter of preparation.
"You never know what will happen. During the course of a game somebody could dislocate a finger. Somebody could have a season-ending injury. As a reserve, you are on the sidelines much of the time but never stop learning and developing as a player. You are always ready to take the call."
Walters feels focus is the key to a reliable and productive performance.
"I never get nervous. I don't think ahead if I will be put in or not. My job is to concentrate on the nuances of my position. And once a coach tells me that I'm in, there's no pressure. I'm too busy dealing with what we're going to do, watching how the other guys are playing. It's an opportunity. I just want to go out there and play."
But pressure will surely be an issue due to Chicago's recent skid, losing four of their last five games, and the must-win nature of a longstanding rivalry game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
"Yes, we were 7-1 at one point this fall," Walters said. "That is not the case right now, so in that sense there is urgency to win out and make it to the playoffs. Green Bay has a strong team and this is a game we know they'll be up for. But I think we need to look past the hype and the pressure and just play the game. We have the talent to succeed if we don't let the game get away from us."
Talent could be in short supply with Earl Bennett, Shea McClellin, Brian Urlacher, Henry Melton, Tim Jennings, Steltz and Tim Jennings ruled out. Michael Bush, Geno Hayes and Matt Toeaina are listed as questionable.
"I'm not concerned," Walters said. "The team has excellent depth and the guys who are left are more than able to step in. We train for this all season."
"I never read the news reports about us or the Packers, never watch the sports shows on TV. I try to isolate myself from that as much as possible. But this week, there has been quite a bit of conversation about the Packers.
"This game is personal for all of us. It's huge to come out with a win. We feel it's a matter of respect. We haven't beaten Green Bay in a while and they have lost respect for us as a team. That says a lot about our motivation right now."
Walters feels that at 8-5, the Bears are a better team than their record would indicate.
"The close games we've lost have been up in the air until the end. It comes down to a couple of plays here or there that ended up in losses for games we could have won. Seattle was close. Houston was close. Last weekend we felt we had the Vikings but then it slipped away. Those were three losses we felt we could have and should have won."
Whether or not the underdog role suits the Monsters of the Midway remains to be seen, but Walters feels that underestimating the Bears could be the Packers' undoing.
"They are seeing us as not that much of a challenge right now," Walters said. "It's our role to prove them wrong."
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.