Chicago Bears offensive lineman Michael Ola has played football at the professional level but never before Friday night’s season opener had he played on an NFL field. The rookie offensive lineman, who spent 2012 and 2013 in the Canadian Football League, worked at left tackle with the second team against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ola, who has been impressive in training camp, had a strong outing at Soldier Field and did not give up a sack. We caught up with Ola after the game to discuss his first live action in the NFL.
“This was such an exciting night for me, something I’d dreamed of all my life and suddenly, here I am playing a game in the NFL. Remember, I’m from a small town – Riverdale, Georgia – and I went to Hampton, which is a small college, so all these bright lights are somewhat new to me.
“The practice downtown last week was helpful in acclimating to the situation and tonight offered an opportunity to gain more experience in a game situation. This is a great facility and I can see that I’ll be feeling comfortable here in the very near future. It will be the near future in fact as our next home game is only a few days away.
“The chance to play against some different guys other than the ones you’ve been facing up to now is extremely productive, I believe. You learn to adjust to different speeds, different techniques. Although this was a preseason contest, the intensity was there and the speed of play was up. Although it is always important to win, what you show the coaches and the players on your own team is really crucial. You want to demonstrate that you are learning and that you can compete at this level.
“How do I think I did? Pretty well. I did have some nerves initially, mostly when we came out of the tunnel before the game began. But once I was out there playing, it disappeared. I'’ve played football most of my life so at this point, it’s pretty much automatic. I think I was able to keep up as far as speed but I did notice some things in my technique that I’ll be working on this week in Bourbonnais. I want to refine that until I’m perfect. The better your technique, the faster and more effectively you play. That’s important.
“The guys on offense have been great in helping us out. Matt Slauson has put in a lot of time in camp with the rookies teaching us what to do. He often keeps us on the field after practice so we can correct things we've done wrong. It’s a definite learning process. Kyle had been hurting a little bit earlier in camp but now that he's back 100 percent, he's right in there helping us too. These players are dedicated enthusiastic guys who are for the team, completely. All the vets want is for us to win. That's why we're here.
“What are they teaching us? That winning is a matter of intensity and desire. Everybody in the NFL is good. You have to be better in order to stick around. You put everything into a play and you usually will be successful. I’m honored to have the opportunity to play with guys like that who are so dedicated to their craft.
“Before the game, the vets were explaining the preseason to us. It was a matter of, ‘Go out there and do you best in this game, but don’t go out there and kill yourself’. At this stage of the season, you need to preserve your body as much as possible. What they also said is not to let your adrenaline get the better of you. You want to be competitive but not to the extent that you are going to get hurt. There is a long way to go through the upcoming season and you want to be around for all of that experience.
“In the preseason, though, it can get pretty intense out there. Remember, everybody is trying to get noticed, trying to get a job. We always have the fact that cuts are coming in the back of our minds. We don’t want to be that guy heading back home.
“I don’t see recovery this week as being a problem as long as we pay attention. There’s a day off tomorrow so the plan is to stay off our feet and rest up as much as possible, hydrate, eat well. That should make things fine for practice on Sunday.
“Camp’s been fun. Everybody’s competing and getting better every day. That’s the point. You have to show definitely clear improvement to stay around here. This team has something special. I’m blessed to be a part of it all and I’m taking things day by day.
“I hope that I’m showing I’m coachable and I can do my job. The learning curve is still steep but tonight was a good start.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 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.