Coming into the 2012 NFL Draft, most analysts believed Troy offensive tackle James Brown (6-4, 306) to be a mid-round pick. Surprisingly, he went undrafted, likely because he was considered a "tweener": too short to play tackle and too light to play guard.
The Chicago Bears saw potential in Brown's athleticism and snatched him up immediately after the draft ended. He spent the first 11 weeks of the season on the team's practice squad and was elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 12, after Chilo Rachal left the club.
With Chris Spencer and Edwin Williams ineffective all season at left guard, coordinator Mike Tice named Brown the starter two weeks ago. It's been quite a ride from UDFA to NFL starter in less than a season. Bear Report goes one-on-one with Brown.
"We're getting ready to head to Detroit tomorrow. It's been a good solid week of practice and everybody here's ready to go.
"Looking back at the game in Arizona, we got the job done. It's definitely a playoff type situation, starting as of last week. One-and-done is what we're up against right now.
"We aren't going to let ourselves think about the scenarios as far as the Vikings and Packers, or any other teams are concerned. It's enough to concentrate on our jobs and our game.
"I'd say that overall, the mood here is both optimistic and determined. Yes, there are many starters still out with injuries, but the team has excellent depth. One guy goes down, another one is ready to step in and take his place.
"I'm so appreciative for the chance to be out there playing. As a rookie any field time is good. The more experience you can get, the better. I definitely enjoy the challenge. I've spent considerable time studying our offense and perfecting my moves. You'll notice that during practice, our unit is often the last one off the field. We work hard and the results in Arizona are the proof of that.
"It's a high-pressure game coming up. It doesn't get more intense than knowing there is one team between you and the playoffs. We feel confident, but not overconfident. Everybody is well prepared to do what we need to do.
"In my mind, success is in the details. If each one of us does his job correctly, then we should come out on top.
"This has been an interesting season for me. In some ways it has been exactly what I had anticipated, and in other ways the experience has been quite different from what I expected going in.
"I can think back and see myself as the guy who came here more or less clueless last spring. I came from a small school and a small town right into Chicago and the NFL. There was so much to learn, and not much time to do that. For a rookie, those first days at Halas Hall are intimidating. You see these players you've only seen before on TV. Everything is new and it's difficult to learn so much that fast. It's important to get past that quickly, otherwise it's just too distracting.
"Training camp was intense but very productive. It was an endless series of meetings and practices from early in the morning to late at night. I loved it though. A great experience. The hard part was seeing guys get cut who had become friends.
"Preseason games were a wake-up call. Play in the NFL moves really fast. If you aren't alert and up to speed all of the time, defensive players will go right past you. Those games taught me what I could do reasonably well and what I still had to work on.
"Practice squad earlier this fall was an excellent learning experience. I think when you're out there playing the role of players from other teams, you pick up some of their skills. I have tremendous respect for our defense as well, having played against them so much in practice.
"And now, I'm on the regular roster. That was my goal all along and I'm enjoying every minute. The best part of this experience is that its fun. It's my dream come true, really. I love going out there and trying to be better every day."
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.