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Bears longshots ready to take their best shot
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/14/2009 12:01 AM

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BOURBONNAIS - While at Ohio State, Marcus Freeman started and excelled in two BCS championship games. He started twice in The Big Game against Michigan.

He practiced in front of 90,000 fans during spring ball and basically experienced the hero treatment every day for five years while in Columbus.

But nothing, in his mind, will compare to playing a subservient role in the Bears' preseason opener on Saturday at Buffalo (7 p.m., Channel 32).

"There might not be as many fans as there were at Ohio Stadium, but I think this is going to be three times as great," Freeman said. "For a lot of us rookies, this is a dream come true to be able to play in an NFL game.

"I know it's preseason, but it's our first real taste of the NFL. We're all excited. I know our adrenaline is going to be rushing."

But when the kickoff goes up, the time in several rookies' hourglasses starts to rush out.

"We have almost 80 guys here in camp," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "They know only 53 stay."

For guys like Freeman, a fifth-round draft pick who's No. 4 on the team's pecking order at strong-side linebacker, and free-agent wide receiver Eric Peterman, who's probably running ninth at a position where the Bears will keep just six, these so-called meaningless exhibitions couldn't be more crucial.

"I keep hearing that all the evaluations are going to be during the preseason games," Peterman said. "I'm just trying to wait for those games to come up and get some good plays down on film. I keep hearing your preseason games are going to be your resume."

"There are 32 teams that are going to see this tape," Freeman said.

That can only help a guy like Peterman, the 2009 Northwestern grad who gets precious few snaps in practice behind five veterans and rookie draftees Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder.

"Around here, it's a lot different," Peterman said. "They expect you to pick up things a lot faster. And when you're not getting the reps where I'm at, they expect you to know everything that the 1s and 2s know.

"That's something I'm still dealing with because I'm trying to learn all three receiver spots and all four special teams - and a couple of different spots on those."

Ah, special teams. If fringe guys like Freeman and Peterman want to be among the final 53, they must stand out on special teams.

While they might not appear until the fourth quarter at their primary positions, look for Freeman's No. 58 and Peterman's No. 86 all over all four special-teams units.

Sixth-round pick Al Afalava, who'll start at free safety against Buffalo to allow Danieal Manning to rest his hamstring, is an exception to the rookie rule in this exhibition.

The Oregon State product has spent plenty of time with the starters during Manning's absence and seems to be gaining acceptance.

After one play during Tuesday night's 11-on-11 work - when he anticipated a Jay Cutler pass to tight end Desmond Clark and nearly picked it off - Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs rushed over to offer enthusiastic fives.

"The vets treat all the rookies good," Afalava said. "That's a good thing. I thought they were going to be like bullies or something, but they're all nice."

Except when they ask the rookies to stand up and serenade them after a meal.

At Urlacher's request, Peterman sang Travis Tritt's "It's a Great Day to be Alive." Why that? Because, according to Peterman, Urlacher and Greg Olsen declared "the white guys always need to sing country songs."

When Olin Kreutz and Alex Brown tabbed Freeman to entertain the masses, the rookie decided to rap.

"The goal is not to get booed, but I was booed very quickly," Freeman said with a laugh. "I've got to go back to my room and practice."

Better to be sent packing from the cafeteria stage than from the practice field.