Right frame of mind and body

For Aaron Gibson, 2003 has been a very good year. When the 6-6 375 pound lineman joined the Bears midway through the 2002 season, it was one of the few times a man of his stature could go completely under the radar.

After signing with Chicago Aaron Gibson played in just one game, but off-season training helped him shed 50 pounds. Well under the 400-pound mark he showed the speed, strength and athleticism that made him a first-round pick out of Wisconsin.

"I've been working with a nutritionist to keep my weight under control," Gibson said. "My strength coach has been helping me reshape my body. I feel faster, stronger, and leaner than I have since I joined the NFL 5 years ago."

When the Bears decided to release James "Big Cat" Williams it brought an end to an era in Chicago. Williams was the last player link to Mike Ditka and had been with the Bears for 12 seasons.

While the original idea was to have either Mike Gandy or Marc Colombo be the right tackle, Gibson emerged as the starter despite the fact that he had never played the position.

When Colombo wasn't ready at the start of training camp because of continued problems from a dislocated kneecap, Gibson stepped in and never looked back.

"It was a real challenge for me, particularly once ‘Big Cat' Williams left the team," Gibson said. "I felt that it would be my job ultimately to replace him in terms of what he gave to this team. While I'm not there yet, I'm certainly giving it my best shot."

Coach Dick Jauron acknowledges that Gibson is not in Williams' league yet, but the potential is evident.

"Aaron's had a tremendous year for us playing really for his complete year at right tackle, which is not an easy thing to do in this league," Jauron said. "He's done everything we've ever asked to him to do. Starting with losing weight, starting gaining strength all last year and all through this year. So hopefully it's in front of him, he'll just continue to get better and clearly he's got things you can never teach. He's got that massive size and a feel for the game and he's an athlete. He can bend; he's a flexible man."

Even with the drop in weight, Gibson is still one of the biggest men in the NFL. His size has often been perceived to be more of a detriment than an advantage. He had trouble staying healthy throughout his five seasons in the NFL, finishing two seasons on Injured Reserve and playing in only 18 games in five years.

To his credit, Gibson heard the criticism and decided to prove his critics wrong. He has started every game for the Bears in 2003 and will join Olin Kreutz and Steve Edwards as the only members of the offensive line to accomplish the feat.

"When I first came to Chicago I knew what people were saying about me. It was as if I was a sort of experiment, somebody who would be out there lumbering around the field accomplishing nothing. I knew what I was capable of doing and the coaches recognized my potential. I just had to prove it to everybody outside of our organization. Now I need to keep building on this and carry it into next season."

With Colombo due back from injury Gibson will have to earn his job again, but remains confident about his future.

"As a starter, of course. I haven't had this much fun playing football since my early college years," Gibson said of his status for next year. "I'm in great shape and I'm feeling good. It's an incredible turnaround for me. I think that my production this year has reflected this. I'm really looking forward to the start of training camp next year."

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