Rookie Anderson Making a Splash Along D-Line

If there was one position on the Bears that probably didn't need too much help from the rookie class, it was along the defensive line. Ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye are already a formidable pair, and the tackle rotation of Alfonso Boone, Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, and Ian Scott is deep and talented. Nevertheless, Mark Anderson has made an impact as a first-year player.

The heavily-publicized defensive line has been credited with eight of the nine sacks the Bears have recorded in two games so far. Although sacks can sometimes be an overrated statistic, getting them from the front four is always a good sign. That means the defense is getting consistent pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz linebackers and safeties on every play.

Sacks from your strong safety are great and all, but if that blitz gets stuffed by an alert fullback, big plays in the passing game often occur because the secondary is out-manned and vulnerable.

The Bears have arguably the most talented defensive front in the NFL. Not only have Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye both recorded their fair share of sacks over the years, they are also highly capable in run support. Tackles aren't usually expected to put up big sack numbers, but Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone already have one apiece, and star-in-the-making Tommie Harris had two last week alone.

Another unexpected contributor along the Bears d-line, rookie end Mark Anderson, has 1.5 sacks on the young season.

A fifth-round pick out of Alabama, Anderson was overlooked in the 2006 NFL Draft despite being a four-year starter on a defensive-minded SEC team. Many scouts labeled him as a `tweener, not sure if he was big enough to play end and not sure if he was fast enough to play linebacker. At a rugged 6'4" and 255 pounds, the rookie is proving above all else that he is just a football player, plain and simple.

Forgotten about in training camp thanks to a pulled hamstring, Anderson saw very little action in Bourbonnais and missed the first three preseason games. But when he finally got back on the playing field in the exhibition finale at Cleveland, he was wreaking havoc all over the place and seemed to be camped in the Browns offensive backfield. With Israel Idonije nursing a sprained ankle, Anderson saw some time in Week 1 at Green Bay and registered his first career sack against three-time MVP Brett Favre.

Anderson continued his strong play at home against Detroit, denting the stat sheet with one tackle, one assist, and half a sack. Through two games, he has two solo tackles, two assists, one tackle-for-loss, and those 1.5 sacks - equaling Ogunleye and leading Brown.

Although Anderson has turned some heads with his aggressive play in the early going, head coach Lovie Smith was asked if the team can take its time with Idonije and make sure he is 100% healthy before returning to action.

"Not really," he answered. "Izzy, once he's healthy, we need him out on the football field."

Smith obviously wants to have all the arrows back in his quiver, and even though he is anxious to get Idonije contributing once again, Anderson has shown that he fits in just fine with one of the deepest and most disruptive d-line units in all of football.

"Mark is playing just because he's a good football player that has gotten an opportunity to play and has produced when he's gotten that chance," Smith said. "It's no more than that. We can't ever have too many good defensive linemen, and Mark has definitely showed us that he is one of them that can help us win some games around here."

The former Crimson Tide star might see his snaps reduced once Idonije works his way back into the rotation, but if Anderson keeps sacking quarterbacks and smashing ball-carriers like he has so far, he'll simply be too valuable to leave on the bench.


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