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Bears’ James Anderson now starting alongside rookies he’s mentoring

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:24AM



As wide at the top as they are at the bottom, overturned blue and white trash cans make perfect stand-ins for linemen. They’re lined up in formation now, five blocking four, after practice at the Walter Payton Center.

His arm in a sling, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs hands off the ball to a half-speed running back. Linebackers Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Larry Grant slide between the cans, stopping the run. Among them, only Bostic has played more than one defensive snap this season. Neither Bostic nor Greene had appeared on defense until Briggs and D.J. Williams, out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, were hurt.

A healthy James Anderson, the last veteran standing, watches intently from behind the defense. On Monday in Green Bay, the strong-side linebacker will start alongside rookies Bostic and Greene. He will call the plays, a role he once held with the Carolina Panthers.

‘‘I came here with D.J., and I was the young old guy,’’ the 30-year-old said. ‘‘Now I’m the old old guy.’’

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Anderson pulled into Halas Hall at 6:15 on Thursday morning.

At defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s urging, the team’s veteran linebackers spent the week tutoring Bostic and Greene.

‘‘I spend time talking with them if they have different questions, giving them coaching points, giving them little tips and keys to look at during the plays,” said Anderson, a 2006 third-round pick. ‘‘The better they play, the better we do.’’

In practice this week, Anderson called out another linebacker’s blown coverage and covered his running back mid-play.

‘‘He’s a genius, man,’’ said Greene, who committed a 15-yard personal foul against the Washington Redskins in his only defensive snap. ‘‘He’s a teacher.’’

Anderson self-identified as a football ‘‘nerd,’’ and Greene agreed.

‘‘To know you have somebody out on the field that can direct you when you may need it . . .” Greene said. ‘‘If there’s something that a coach misses, he sees it. Nothing gets past James.’’

Helping young players was one reason the Bears signed Anderson to a one-year, $1.25 million deal in March. Before the Panthers released him, he tutored Luke Kuechly, the 2012 defensive rookie of the year.

Anderson knows how the rookies feel. In his second year, he started one game at middle linebacker — a position he’d never played, even in peewee football.

‘‘He’s very articulate, so he understands the ‘why’ of the game,” Tucker said. ‘‘And if you understand why, then you can explain it, and he can teach it. It’s one thing to know how to do it. It’s another thing to be able to teach someone else how to do it.’’

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It’s hard to use oil paints in a Chicago condo.

Back home in North Carolina, Anderson would put on music and lose himself in front of a canvas. A studio art major at Virginia Tech, he has sold his abstract works and figures he’ll return to painting when he goes home in the offseason.

‘‘You kinda escape into your own world,’’ he said.

Anderson is an old soul.

He spent last Christmas Eve at a Columbia, S.C., hospital, delivering gifts to a boy with leukemia. The week he was cut — one year after setting a franchise record with 145 tackles — he traveled to Mexico to visit orphanages and put on a football camp for 3,500 underprivileged kids.

Unemployed, he never considered canceling.

‘‘Very mature,” Greene said. ‘‘A very good dude.’’

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From Chesapeake, Va., to college to the pros, Anderson had never lived outside a five-hour radius until moving to Chicago.

“You go through a situation of ‘What do I do now?’ ” he said. ‘‘But the best always works out.’’

He wears No. 50, the first Bear to do so since Mike Singletary.

Compared to the rookies, he might as well be.

‘‘Those guys have done a great job learning their jobs,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘And I’ve got to be able to trust they can do their jobs.’’

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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