Stephen Paea was feeling healthy and confident after Tuesday's Bears OTA at Halas Hall. It'd been awhile since he'd been either. The same can be said of the Bears' defensive line. The more hurt they physically experienced last season, the more hurt opposing offenses put on them.
"We're just gonna run through the O-Lines that come into our stadium," Paea said.
First, let's hope that's true. Second, let's hope they do it in the eight other stadiums they'll visit.
To clarify, that statement came at the end of his reaction to how general manager Phil Emery has reloaded that group, and how it now affects his playing time, and possibly his roster security. After all, it was a year ago the 2011 second-round pick was expected to have a breakout season after improvement and an increased snap count his first two years. It was going to be him, Henry Melton, Julius Peppers, and the Corey Wootton/Shea McClellin combo that would pick up where the line left off in 2012, combining for 38 sacks. Then the injuries came to Melton, Nate Collins, and Paea, who fared better than the other two in that he didn't suffer a season-ending torn ACL. But the turf toe he sustained at Detroit in the fourth game resulted in missing three contests overall, and when he did play, he just wasn't the same. The linemen accounted for just 21 sacks last season.
"I let my teammates down," Paea said. "The best thing about it is I have a second chance to do it. I'm gonna step up there fighting and help my teammates, just put a chip on my shoulder. It's the last year of my contract. It's an `all-in' year for me."
So throw in the "something-to-prove" factor. And between free agency and the Day 2 draft selections of interior linemen Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, the bell is about to ring, and Paea knows he must answer it.
"You can't complain with (Jared) Allen, (Jeremiah) Ratliff, and Lamarr (Houston). I'm learning a lot from those guys. They're gonna make me better and we're gonna make each other better, chemistry-wise. Not only that, we have the new guys coming in, the draft picks. The competition is high and that's a good thing. Ratliff used to work with (new defensive line coach) Paul Pasqualoni (with the Cowboys). They're on the same page and I’m excited. It’s like two coaches teaching me in the huddle and off the huddle. It’s exciting."
Paea broke out his pregame Haka Dance last season in hopes of firing his defensive teammates up. He hopes to be doing it again prior to the Sept. 7 season opener at Soldier Field against the Buffalo Bills. That may be difficult to teach his fellow Bears, but just as Ratliff and Pasqualoni are passing tips along to him, Paea says he'll follow suit with Ferguson and Sutton, despite his battle with them over who starts when the Bills come to town.
"I’m not gonna be selfish," Paea promises. "I was once a young guy and they deserve the coaching and help from their peers, especially me. Comeptition is good. That’s the beauty of the game."