When Nick Roach signed a lucrative deal with the Oakland Raiders this offseason, the Chicago Bears were forced to find a new strong-side linebacker in free agency. Not long after, GM Phil Emery signed James Anderson, a seven-year veteran who has played his entire career in Carolina. For the first time since his rookie season, Anderson enters an unfamiliar training camp, in a new city, with new teammates and a new coaching staff.
"It's been different. It's had its different challenges," Anderson told Bear Report today. "But the organization here has been great. I'm loving it."
Anderson spent his first three and half years in Carolina working mainly on special teams. As such, he doesn't believe he has as much mileage on his tires as a typical seven-year veteran.
"Absolutely. My first three or four years, I was mainly a special teams guy," said Anderson. "I've saved my body a little bit. So I feel like I'm going into my fifth year."
Luckily for him, Chicago's 4-3 system is similar to the one in which he played for the Panthers, so the transitional period has been relatively easy.
"In Carolina I played in two or three different systems," he said. "Every system has it's own quirks and different things but for the most part, a 4-3 is a 4-3."
During offseason activities, Anderson worked with the first team alongside Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams. In passing sets, Anderson stayed on the field next to Briggs. In that role as a nickel linebacker, Anderson will be matched up against some outstanding tight ends, particularly in the NFC North where Jermichael Finley, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Pettigrew reside. But that doesn't worry Anderson.
"We've got one of the best we go against in practice every day in Martellus Bennett. Him and Fendi [Onobun] and those guys have given us great looks, getting great reps. When you practice against one of the better ones, you're not worried about the games."
"It's football man. You put your jersey on, you put your cleats on and go play ball. It is what it is," he said. "Every year in the NFL you've got somebody right behind you. They keep you pushing. It's a competition and the best man will win."
Like all but four starters on the defense, Anderson's contract is up at the end of this season. Yet he doesn't feel he's a stopgap player and would like to stay in Chicago beyond this year.
"I feel like I could stay here for a while. A one-year deal just means, go prove yourself. So you go out there and you play ball and you let the chips fall where they may."
Bear Report has high expectations for Anderson this season. He looked good in the offseason programs, far better than D.J. Williams, and, assuming he continues to play at a high level once the pads come on, he'll have a big role in the defense this season. It would be very surprising if Anderson is not the starter coming out of training camp.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.