Player Spotlight: Joe Odom

Lake Forest - For Joe Odom, Friday night's game against the Saints is a chance to prove that he's ready to return to the lineup as a starter. Odom was in the midst of a strong rookie season in 2003 when a groin injury kept him off the field for the final six games. Returning to form this year has proved to be more difficult than Odom had anticipated.

"I just didn't feel that I was up to speed this summer," Odom said. "And by the time I returned to the active roster, the entire system had changed. There were new coaches and new plays to learn. I think it's much more difficult to pick up the defensive schemes if you haven't played for months."

Evidently Lovie Smith and Ron Rivera agreed with Odom assessment as the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder found himself slated behind Marcus Reese as strong side linebacker for the pre season games.

Now, it's Reese's turn to watch from the sidelines as he nurses an injured hamstring, which could keep him out anywhere from four to six weeks.

"I never would wish harm to anyone, but when Marcus went down, I knew that my opportunity had come," Odom said. "This is the chance to make an impact. The new coaching staff is not that familiar with what I am capable of doing. My job is to go out there and show them that I can produce in a big way."

In the preseason opener Odom forced a fumble and nearly picked off a ball for a go-ahead touchdown in the closing minute of regulation vs. the Rams. Still producing consistently might be easier said than done as even Odom concedes that his learning curve is a steep one.

"In a way, it's almost like being a rookie again, and in that sense the situation is extremely frustrating. I spent a long time after I was drafted learning the Bears defensive system. I picked it up quickly and functioned well in the schemes. Now everything has changed and not only do I need to acclimate once more to the pace of the professional game, but I need to learn plays while I am on the field. That can be difficult."

To compensate for the game and off-season practice time he missed, Odom has been diligent in his conditioning and his rehabilitation. He has also attended team meetings and analyzed game films in an effort to keep up with his teammates.

"There's a certain sense of solidarity with the other players that you can lose when you're injured," "Odom said. "It's as if you are part of the team, yet part from it. When you aren't in there day after day, there is also some level of communication that is lost with the other players. That's such an important aspect of the game and it is definitely something that I am working with right now."

Sharpening his football instincts have been another area of concentration for Odom.

"As a rookie, so often you think before you make a move," Odom said. "That really slows you down and lessens your production. As a second year player, you are expected to be reacting instead of thinking before you make a move. I want to get my speed up so I am on the ball quicker. That will come with practice and with game experience."

But is his confidence still there?

"Sure. I remind myself every day that I was drafted because the Bears felt I could add something to this team. The coaches who are here now have assured me that they feel I can be a valuable contributor. My skills are still intact; they just need to be sharpened a little. I have confidence right now that I will return to last year's level of play. I just hope that I produce at a high level sooner rather than later."

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