Peppers isn't the only sack threat in Chicago

Julius Peppers is the big-name free agent the Bears signed to help their pass rush, but it turns out their leader in sacks this year was on the team the whole time. Israel Idonije has been a force on the defensive line since they asked him to concentrate on only one position and he will be the responsibility of the Vikings' offensive tackles.

Ever since the Bears started asking Israel Idonije to do less, he's done more.

For his first six seasons Idonije was the Bears' jack of all trades, playing both defensive end positions, the 3-technique defensive tackle spot and nose tackle, plus playing on all the special teams, blocking for returns, running down under kicks and blocking kicks.

But this year, Idonije was told to focus on just playing defensive end.

Well, that and blocking for kickoff returns and trying to block field goals and extra points. But no more nose tackle, no more 3-tehcnique tackle, no more moving around from position to position and no more playing on all the special teams.

The results have been impressive. Idonije's five sacks are more than the next three Bears combined and have already exceeded his previous single-season best of 3.5. His critical blocked extra point Sunday in his return to Canada was the seventh of his career, moving him into third place all-time since that became an official statistic in 1992.

Idonije, who was born in Nigeria but raised in Manitoba, Canada, said the reason for his emergence from role player to impact player this year is simple.

"In the past, I've played everything," he said. "So every week I'd have to study end, 3 technique, nose, kickoffs, kick return, punt return. There's so much going on. Now, all I do is study my end position every week. I look at the two tackles that I'm playing against, so my workload has been cut dramatically. When you do that, your production's got to go up. Fortunately I've been able to get a little more production and hopefully will keep doing it."

Idonije came to training camp this year pitted against Mark Anderson for the starting job opposite Julius Peppers. With former starters Alex Brown cut and Adewale Ogunleye not re-signed, a job share between Idonije and Anderson was expected. But the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Idonije quickly asserted himself as a player who deserved to be on the field as much as possible, not playing in a rotation. So Anderson was cut and Idonije, for the first time in his NFL career, had a position all to himself.

"He's evolved," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He started as a special teams guy, went to (part-time) defensive end, defensive tackle, now he's our starting defensive end. He's gotten better every year. They still use him on special teams every once in a while. He does everything."

Ironically, even though Idonije is playing fewer position, he's getting more playing time than he did in the past, which has also helped his production. Ideally, playing in a rotation with other players keeps all the principals fresh, but staying on the field longer is Idonije's preference

"Being on the field consistently is better in my opinion," he said. "Getting (more) reps and just getting a feel for the game. You get into a better rhythm that way, rather than rotating six plays in, six plays off. It's tough to get into a rhythm that way and get into the flow of the game and setting a guy up. Being able to get in consistently and get a feel for what's going on and how I want to rush and attack a guy helps production and helps overall play."

Sunday in Canada, Idonije's football career came full circle. He didn't play the game until he was 17 and a high school senior in Manitoba, but when he returned for the first time as a pro, he put on a show for the home crowd. Idonije had half a sack, 3 tackles and 3 quarterback pressures to go along with his blocked kick.

"It's just a moment that you cherish and you'll always remember," he said. "Playing an NFL game on Canadian soil. (My) college coach is watching, (my) high school coach is watching. It's just one of those moments. I got a lot of calls and congratulations and just a lot of people happy to be a part of the story and the journey to this point. It was a truly exciting moment."

NOTES

  • QB Jay Cutler appeared to be back in the groove last Sunday, posting a 97.6 passer rating after an October slump that included 19 sacks in 2 1/2 games, a concussion that caused him to miss 1 1/2 games, five interceptions and one TD pass.

  • RB Matt Forte got 14 carries last week, just the third time this season he's gotten that many in a game, but he only rushed for 49 yards, a 3.5-yard average. He's averaged better than 3.5 yards per carry in just two games this season, although he has three rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns.

  • RB Chester Taylor scored his first TD of the season in Week Nine on a one-yard run, but he had just 13 yards on 10 carries and on 54 carries this season has only 173 yards, a 3.2-yard average, although he has been used frequently in short-yardage situations.

  • TE Greg Olsen had three catches for the second straight week and, although they produced just 29 yards, he had a four-yard TD grab, his third of the season, and a key 18-yard reception on a third-and-10 play that set up the winning TD.

  • WR Devin Hester was targeted three times and caught two passes for 23 yards. He has not had more than 30 receiving yards in any of the Bears' past six games, and he's topped that mark just once all season.

  • WR Johnny Knox had three catches for 49 yards in Week Nine and is averaging 19.5 yards on his 27 receptions this season but has just one touchdown.

  • WR Earl Bennett led the Bears with four catches for 52 yards against the Bills, and he's had a reception for 26 yards or longer in three straight games after averaging just 6.2 yards per catch on 13 catches in the first five games.

  • DE Israel Idonije added a half-sack last week to give him five for the season and pad his team lead.

  • CB Charles Tillman forced and recovered a fumble and has now forced four and recovered two for the season.

  • CB Tim Jennings had his first interception of the season in Week Nine, broke up two passes and tied for the team lead with nine tackles, including one for negative yardage.


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