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Defensive tackle Stephen Paea knows Bears are counting on him

Updated: November 16, 2013 6:24AM



Defensive tackle Stephen Paea drew a crowd when he walked into the Bears’ locker room during
media access Monday at Halas Hall — and not just because he was one of the few starters in it.

With the defensive line — the heart of the Bears’ cover-2 scheme — still in a state of flux after
allowing 123 rushing yards to a New York Giants offense that entered Week 6 ranked last in the NFL with 56 rushing yards per game, Paea’s absence with a sprained toe looms larger than ever.

A spare part as a rookie in 2011 who became a productive starter surrounded by better players in 2012, Paea suddenly is a player the Bears can’t live without. Pro Bowl tackle Henry Melton and replacement Nate Collins are out for the season with injuries. End Julius
Peppers is off to a slow start.
Corey Wootton is out of position at tackle.

‘‘I’ve got to step up,’’ Paea said. ‘‘Just go out and have some swag in there and be comfortable out there.’’

First things first, though. Paea has missed the last two games with the sprained toe. He said he wanted to play against the Giants, but team doctors wouldn’t allow it. Coach Marc Trestman said Monday he is optimistic Paea will play Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

‘‘I did a little running today [to] see how it feels,’’ Paea said. ‘‘We’re shooting for Sunday, but we’ll see.’’

The sooner, the better. The Bears are ranked 20th in the NFL in total defense (373 yards per game) and 26th in points allowed per game (26.8). Last season, they were fifth (316 yards per game) and third (17.3 points) in those categories.

Paea said he feels the responsibility to step up his play.

‘‘We have Nate and Henry down right now,’’ Paea said. ‘‘I look around in the inside, [and] it’s just me and Corey right now. We’ve got to step up. If that means we have to play more snaps, we’ve got to. That’s what [defensive coordinator Mel Tucker] tells us.’’

But Paea knows he only can do so much. It’s more a matter of efficiency — being better on more plays — than suddenly transforming into something he’s not. It’s a matter of helping less experienced teammates improve and creating chemistry with new linemates, something he thinks will come with time.

‘‘When you start thinking about the pressure and leadership — ‘You’re the man now’ — that’s when you start being uncomfortable in your precision and that’s when you don’t do your job,’’ Paea said. ‘‘I just have to be myself. It’s all about repetition, being consistent and making sure these young guys get it. Because everybody’s got to go through it.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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