Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery dove head first into free agency this season. He signed Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett on opening day and, less than a week later, he acquired 10-year veteran D.J. Williams to replace Brian Urlacher. He also added starting left guard Matt Slauson and re-signed multiple players, including Nate Collins, who will be an integral part of the defensive tackle rotation in 2013.
Yet lost in that flurry of action was the acquisition of linebacker James Anderson. A former third draft pick in 2006, Anderson spent his first seven years in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. He was a rock in Carolina, appearing in 94 games, the most by a linebacker in franchise history. The club rewarded him in 2011 with a five-year deal worth $22 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed.
It was one of many big-money contracts the Panthers have handed out the last few years, which put the club in a salary cap bind heading into this offseason. As a result, Anderson was cut to clear cap space.
After losing Nick Roach to the Oakland Raiders, Emery swooped in and signed Anderson to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. It was not a highly publicized move but one that should pay big dividends when all is said and done.
During camp, the calf injury to Williams and the subsequent emergence of Bostic as a potential long-term option at middle linebacker have dominated the headlines. Briggs has also received the attention he rightly deserves, yet few are talking about Anderson, who was easily the most impressive linebacker in Bourbonnais. For some players, that might be bothersome, but not for Anderson.
"Not at all. It's not about who they are talking about," Anderson told Bear Report. "Everybody has a job to do. I go out there and I do my job, I make the plays I'm supposed to make and I keep moving."
He's been used exclusively at strong-side linebacker and has shown great explosiveness and power at the point of attack. Under coach Marc Trestman, training camp practices were void of hard hits, yet Anderson always found a way to crunch some shoulder pads. His speed and aggressiveness should fit well in coordinator Mel Tucker's defense.
"[We play] fast and physical, everybody. Guys make plays in this defense by playing fast," Anderson said.
In coverage, Anderson has also shown very well. He's been working alongside Briggs in nickel packages and had a nice pass deflection in the second preseason game. His solid play in coverage will further help mitigate the loss of Urlacher, who was outstanding in the deep middle zone.
In a fairly dramatic shift from Lovie Smith's system, Tucker has been very liberal and creative in his use of the blitz this preseason, with linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. It's an attacking style that players really enjoy.
"I think it's going to be fun," said Anderson. "You have certain rules and you play off of each other and that creates havoc for offenses. The more havoc we can create and more indecision we can create for them, the better it is for us."
Anderson is in a unique position. On one hand, he gets to learn from one of the best linebackers in the league in Lance Briggs.
"It's great being beside Lance because of the type of player he is and the things he's been able to do," Anderson said. "Just his experience, you learn a lot just from being around him. It's helped me become a better player."
On the other hand, he gets to mentor Bostic, who has been thrust into a tough position as a rookie, following in the footsteps of a Chicago legend.
"I think he's done a great job. You see him improve each day. You see him pick up little things. You see him get more comfortable. That's going to speak volumes for this team in the future, and the linebacker corps."
The starters won't play tomorrow in the preseason finale, so Anderson will get more than two weeks off from live game action before the opener against Cincinnati.
"You've got make the most of your practice reps," he said. "[The time off] just gives you more time to study more film. You get more prepared mentally as opposed to physically."
While Anderson won't be playing tomorrow, the second and third stringers will be on the field, fighting for their jobs. His advice to the bubble players?
"Just go man. You can't go into the game thinking about what's going to happen after the game. Go play the game, go as hard as you can, give all that you've got and then whatever happens, happens."
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.