Bears’ Israel Idonije shows he offers more than intangibles
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com August 19, 2012 7:50PM
Defensive end Israel Idonije had 21/2 sacks Saturday against Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:28AM
Israel Idonije is everything you’d want in a defensive end who gets five sacks in a season.
He hustles, plays the run well, sets a standard for the rest of the defense with his work ethic, makes plays on special teams and is a respected leader in the locker room who thinks before he speaks.
But he knows as well as anyone that it’s the sacks that count.
That’s why Idonije drew a bigger crowd of reporters than normal after the Bears’ 33-31 victory Saturday against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field. He had 21/2 sacks against Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III, including one that forced a fumble fellow defensive end Julius Peppers recovered to set up a touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-0 lead. Idonije also was credited with five tackles, one tackle-for-loss and two hurries.
Did he make a conscious effort to step up amid the Bears’ obvious need for more production from the other defensive end spot?
No, Idonije said. Just doing his job.
‘‘Every year I have something to prove, but tonight is expected of me,’’ said Idonije, who is in his ninth season with the Bears. ‘‘‘They expect me to make plays. They expect me to have an impact. That’s why I’m here.’’
Coach Lovie Smith is always pleased with Idonije’s effort, but he seemed even more pleased by the impact he made against the Redskins.
‘‘He will be the first one to tell you that he left some sacks on the field last year,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But you know the type of effort you are going to get from him [in] any role we think he can help our team. But it’s always good to see a guy have that type of night.’’
The way the defensive line in general — and Peppers and Idonije in particular — attacked Griffin, it appeared the Bears were responding to the challenge of facing a heralded rookie quarterback with unusual skills for the position.
But that wasn’t it, Idonije said.
‘‘He’s a great quarterback, he’s talented,’’ Idonije said. ‘‘But it was about us more than about him. After the first game, the intensity level picked up. The coaches let us know that [the effort Aug. 9 against the Denver Broncos] was not good enough. That’s not our defense.
‘‘The next few practices, the intensity was high and we got after it. So we expected to play better. And we did.’’
It appears Idonije took the lead in heeding the coaches’ admonishment after a lackluster effort against the Broncos.
‘‘He had a great week of practice,’’ teammate Corey Wootton said. ‘‘When you see guys in practice really doing things well, you get that feeling they’re going to have a good game. That’s what he did.’’
That’s another part of Idonije’s game that gets overshadowed by the focus on his modest sack total: Teammates follow his lead. Sacks stlll define a defensive end’s worth, but Idonije still has plenty of value at 31.
‘‘He’s probably one of the most underrated players in the league,’’ said defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, who shared a sack of Griffin with Idonije. ‘‘He doesn’t mind that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, and that’s what we appreciate about him. It doesn’t matter. He still gives 110 percent every game.’’
That makes a difference, though much more subtly than a sack.
‘‘I see his work ethic and see how good he really is,’’ Wootton said. ‘‘He’s underrated. He takes on double-teams. He’s a run-stopper. People underestimate his rush ability. And he showed it [Saturday] night.’’