Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
BOURBONNAIS - Whether it's Mark Anderson or Israel Idonije or, more likely, some combination of the two playing on the opposite end from Julius Peppers in the Bears' defense, there will be many chances to stand out.
"Both will have opportunities to make plays because, from what I've seen early on from Julius, he's definitely how he was advertised," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "That player (opposite Peppers) needs to be able to win a 1-on-1 battle.
"Of course teams will look to Julius first - they'll try to deal with him with the double-team. It should open up opportunities for our other guys."
And for both players there is much to prove.
Four years after he burst on the NFL scene with 12 sacks in 2006 as a fifth-round draft pick, Anderson still is trying to prove that his rookie season wasn't a fluke. He has had just 91/2 sacks in three seasons since then, only 41/2 over the past two years.
"I know he had the great year where he had the sacks, but lately the sacks haven't come," Smith said. "But he works so hard every day in practice, and the guy opposite Julius, he'll get an opportunity to make a lot of plays."
Idonije is entering his seventh season with the Bears, almost exclusively as a backup, and he has switched positions almost that many times.
The Bears have never been able to decide whether the 6-foot-6 native of Lagos, Nigeria, was an end or a tackle.
They've had him bulk up to more than 300 pounds when they wanted him inside, but now he's back to 270 hoping to gain some quickness to benefit his pass-rush skills.
With last year's starting ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye both departed, Idonije considers this the best opportunity of his career to carve out a bigger role in the defense, and he's only being asked to worry about one position.
"All I'm doing is playing end," he said. "Before, it was end, nose tackle, three technique (tackle), and I'm excited.
"It's a great opportunity just to be committed to one position and (have coaches) say, 'This is what we want you to do. Just work on these skills, work on these few things.'
"As a player that's what you want, just to be able to hone in and focus. It's really the ultimate opportunity for me."
While Anderson and Idonije are battling for the starting job, the position probably is more a collaboration than a competition.
Idonije is the better player vs. the run, while Anderson has flashed his elite pass-rush quickness more than in the recent past.
Idonije says their competition is more about winning for the team than defeating each other.
"I have to make a play every snap I'm in there," he said. "When Mark makes a play, we make a play (as a team). I'm happy for him. We're a team.
"Mark is going to make a lot of plays for the defense this year, as is Julius, and I plan on doing the same.
"At the end of the day, he's got to get better, I've got to get better, Julius, everybody, the whole unit, everyone has to produce and get better, and if we do that we're going to be in a great position."