Linebacker James Anderson comes with a teacher feature for Bears rookies
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2013 10:22PM
Chicago Bears James Anderson during practice at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., on Thursday, April 18, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 17, 2013 7:08AM
Luke Kuechly remembers when it was just him and James Anderson.
Injuries had kept other linebackers off the field during the Carolina Panthers’ organized team activities last offseason, and Kuechly came in with big expectations after being drafted ninth overall.
He needed someone to learn from.
‘‘When I got in there, I really didn’t know what was going on,’’ he said. ‘‘I had to learn a lot of new stuff, and [Anderson] was always there. He was very helpful from the start, helping me out, teaching me how to get plays set up, how to do things, how to conduct yourself.’’
Kuechly went on to become the defensive rookie of the year in 2012. Anderson moved on and signed with the Bears.
Anderson might not be getting as much attention as D.J. Williams, the free-agent addition taking over for Brian Urlacher, but he is every bit as important. He said the Bears liked how he fit their cover-2 scheme. He may actually see more time in nickel packages than Williams. But Anderson also was a perfect addition for a team that had a youth movement planned at linebacker — executed with the selections of Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
‘‘He’s a good role model to have,’’ Kuechly said.
It’s a role that Anderson — who had 432 tackles over seven seasons with the Panthers — values. He remembers what linebackers Chris Draft and Keith Adams meant to him early in his career.
‘‘I just took on that responsibility as being one of the older guys who try to show the young guys how to do it,’’ he said. ‘‘When you’re a young guy coming in, you’re trying to feel your way around and you’re trying to be perfect on every snap. I feel it’s on you to realize that you’re going to make mistakes when you’re doing it at 100 miles per hour. We’ll fix the mistakes. As a young guy, it’s hard to learn that freedom so you can go out there and play like you did in college.’’
Kuechly predicts Anderson will learn the Bears’ defense immediately — ‘‘He’s just so knowledgeable,’’ he said — and become a great resource for Bostic and Greene, as he was for Kuechly at this time last year.
Anderson already has spent extra time with Bostic and Greene going over film. He said he sees ‘‘two young guys who are eager to learn.’’
Greene and Bostic talk about Anderson like a favorite teacher.
‘‘He’s there for us to use as a source,’’ Greene said. ‘‘He’s doing a great job of helping us, showing us and giving us tips and trying to show us the ways.’’
That includes off the field, whether it’s training, eating well, being a good citizen or giving back to the community.
‘‘He’s one of those guys people look up to,’’ Kuechly said. ‘‘He’s a good leader.’’
Anderson does things with a personal touch. Take his charities, for instance. He has arranged big initiatives through his foundation, such as donating more than 10,000 books to first-graders at Title I schools in North Carolina and Virginia. But he also has supported individuals he has met through video chats on Google Plus (which he will continue with the Bears). A 15-year-old girl’s goal with the Make-A-Wish Foundation was to raise funds through her Sweet 16 party to send a 9-year-old leukemia patient on her dream Caribbean cruise. Anderson matched the $3,000 she raised.
Last summer, he made a surprise visit at a North Carolina prep school to support a bullied student he met at a little league camp. That later led him to attend an anti-bullying conference in Texas.
His ability to connect with people also makes him valuable to a football team.
‘‘You can’t be a great defense unless you make plays and you basically have good chemistry,’’ Anderson said.
Bostic and Greene are learning that on the field and in the locker room. Anderson has worked with them on the second team and spent time on the first with Lance Briggs and Williams.
‘‘He helps us each and every day,’’ Bostic said.
‘‘He’s been awesome,’’ Greene added.