Taking it in Stride

The Bears emphasized speed in the draft and in doing picked up the fastest linebacker available. Leon Joe has been clocked at 4.43 in the forty, which would make him faster than most of the receivers on the team. However the question is how fast can the rookie pick up a new defense?

Joe is eager and excited to be a part of the Bears linebacker core. As all the rookies lined up for their first mini-camp the first task presented to them was the new playbook. With a completely new coaching staff all of the Bears will have to adapt to a different system, but the veterans at least had two previous minicamps to learn coach Shea and Rivera's different schemes. Joe is prepared to study the defense just like he would prepare for a final exam.

"It's so easy it's difficult," Joe said. "Where I‘m coming from we just got to the ball, here it's a gap defense so you just have one gap to worry about instead of two or three. It takes some getting used to, I always like to run to the ball, and instead I am just running to a gap."

The Bears fourth round draft choice played on the weak-side during college and looks to remain in the same role in the NFL. Joe will have a chance to compete with Lance Briggs for the starting slot, but could be an option on the strong-side if Joe Odom or Bryan Knight struggle. While the rookie's strength has been discussed numerous times following his arrival in Chicago, Joe feels he has other assets to bring to the Bears defense.

"I think I am fast and smart, I can pick up things," Joe said. "I am trying to get it done right now. I am trying to figure out the scheme so I can use all my abilities right now, so I won't be sitting back thinking about what I should do. I just react, that's when you start playing to your full potential."

Speed is the buzzword in the first few months of the Lovie Smith era and appears to be a major reason why Joe was added to the team. Another reason the Bears may have selected this linebacker from Maryland is his familiarity with winning. Every since Ralph Friedgen took over the Terrapins in 2001, the season has concluded with a Bowl game. Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith drafted players that were primarily from winning teams. It appears the Bears want to bring in a different attitude and presence this season.

"I have been winning all my life," Joe said. "I don't expect anything else here. I can't stand to lose and I hope my teammates feel the same way."

Joe has a lot of things going for him in his transition to the NFL. The Bears linebacker group has a lot of potential, but the players are very young. The only space that is not for rent is in the middle where Brian Urlacher roams.

"It's fun to be around a young group," Joe said. "I know he's (Urlacher) a great player and now I see for myself that he's a great player. I would like to look at him and see what I can put from his game into my game. It's good to play behind him and watch him everyday."

The other big advantage Joe has going for him is the presence of a first year, first time head coach. Smith does not have any preconceived notions of any members of the team. He knows the veterans a little better only due to coaching against them and the two extra minicamps. With this being Smith's first draft class, the new coach will pay extra attention to what his rookies are able to accomplish.

"They don't know whose who yet, so I just have to show who I am, because everybody else is showing who they are," Joe said. "That's a good thing (having a first year head coach), so we can grow together. I like to grow as a team and I look forward to the opportunity. Hopefully I end up where I want to be."

Joe is now back in Maryland, working out and preparing for the next minicamp later this month. With any luck parts of the defensive system will sink in before he returns to Halas Hall for a second go around.

"You just have to learn as much as you can and remember as much as you can for when you come back," Joe said. "Hopefully I can come in and watch tape when I come back. Either way I think what I have now I learned it, so I know it. I am just excited, I can't wait till camp and I can't wait till I get this scheme down so I can really play."

Ambitious students are exactly what the Bears need to get the new regime in motion.

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