Jamar Williams had a career day against the Rams with a personal-best 13 solo tackles and five assists, but the achievement was somewhat bittersweet for the 25-year-old linebacker.
"I was thrilled to have the opportunity to start today," Williams said in the locker room after the game. "To win here at Soldier Field in a game that we definitely needed to win was very important to me. But the fact that I got my chance due to Lance Briggs' injury took a little of the excitement out of things. You never want something to happen to a teammate."
Bittersweet or not, Williams was in, Briggs was out and Williams made the most of his chance to showcase his talents in a 17-9 win over the Rams. It was something that seemed somewhat overdue for the usually patient player.
"I've had my role on special teams since I joined the Bears," Williams said," and I've tried to wait things out. But I have to say that from time to time it got a little frustrating. I felt that I had talent. What I needed was game time on the field."
But even as Williams got the call, Briggs wasn't completely out of the picture.
"I have to give credit where credit is due," Williams said. "Both Lance and Hunter Hillenmeyer have gone out of their way trying to help me learn. This has gone on for years. They wanted to give me the knowledge I needed to be the best player I could possibly be. They are both my mentors, and I definitely look up to them."
Briggs took it somewhat further than the usual few words of encouragement Sunday, as he stood on the sideline giving Williams almost constant feedback on his performance.
"I knew right away if I had done well, or if I needed to be doing something better," Williams said. "Anytime I came off the field, there Lance would be telling me what he saw and what he felt was either good or bad. In talking about it now, I realize it may sound as if he was intrusive, but it was the best possible education I could have. It doesn't getter better than being new out there as a starter and having one of the best in the game critiquing your play."
Williams lined up at Briggs' weak-side linebacker spot, a place where he feels most at home.
"I've rotated through the linebacker positions during my football career, and I feel I can be productive at this particular position," Williams said. "I think I have pretty good speed and mobility and can help on the pass rush. But if the coaches at some point want to move me to another linebacker spot at some point in the future, that's fine. I'll apply myself so I can be effective there, as well."
The Bears defense had a strong performance overall, limiting the Rams to a 14 percent efficiency on third down, no touchdowns and 233 total net yards. It was a welcome change for what had been a bruised and battered defense.
"It was tough," Wiliams said, referring to Chicago's recent losses. "We were working hard and not getting the good results. It takes a toll on you personally and professionally when you are not getting the wins. I feel that we can turn this thing around, and I am very excited to be a part of that."
To reach this point in his career, Williams had to balance patience with persistence.
"It's a strange situation," he said, "waiting for your opportunity to come along. You need to be in top condition, learning all that you can so you can come in and do well when you are called. But if the call doesn't come, you can't let yourself get discouraged. You keep working on your skills and not let the urgency to get out there and to perform get to you."
To contribute most effectively long term, Williams still feels he has a learning curve to conquer.
"I made good plays today," he said. "But from now on, I need to make great plays. I know opportunity has called, and I need to make the most of it. That means lots of time in the film room this week and lots more time talking with Lance about the techniques of the position. I'm not trying to replace Lance, just trying to mimic him a little bit. If I can begin to be as effective on the field as he has been, then that's what I want to be doing."
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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for eight 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.
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