Bears’ Matt Toeaina tackles swing role with relish
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com August 11, 2011 10:46PM
Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (75) might not be well-known to fans, but the coaches know he can play. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: October 3, 2011 1:14PM
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Even newcomers on the Bears’ defensive line have more name-recognition than Matt Toeaina.
But some of those bigger names probably wish they had Toeaina’s intangibles — the will-to-twin, the experience, the versatility — that makes the fourth-year pro from Oregon a quietly effective and often underappreciated contributor to the Bears’ defense.
With Anthony Adams at nose tackle and Henry Melton at the under-tackle, Toeaina, who started 10 games last season, is the swing tackle who can play either position and creates an effective three-man rotation.
‘‘Last year was definitely a little breakout season, where people started to know my name, I guess,’’ said the 6-2, 308-pound Toeaina. ‘‘This year I’ve got to take that next step — being more consistent, making more play and just being a better player.’’
Buoyed by his success and opportunity last season, Toeaina worked on his overall athleticism in the offseason to continue the upward arc of his NFL career — even in relative anonymity.
‘‘He flies under your radar, but not ours,’’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ‘‘He’s really a good football player. He’s improved from last year. He’s improved as a pass rusher. He’s a load in the run game. He’s smart. He can play both positions. And, believe me, they’re all breathing on each other’s necks. It’s what you like.’’
Fighting for his job is nothing new for Toeaina.
‘‘I always feel like I have something to prove,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t mind whether people know my name or not. The coaches know. My teammates know that when I play that I respect the game. I treat the game the way it’s supposed to be treated. It’s important to me and my family that I play like that.’’
Cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted Jay Cutler three times in practice Thursday, including once on a deep ball for Johnny Knox and another on a pass that bounced off Roy Williams’ hands.
Tillman isn’t taking anything for granted in his ninth season as a starter.
‘‘My spot’s not guaranteed,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘I’m still competing to keep my starting job. We’re all competitors. That’s why we’re here. Fighting for our jobs.’’
Keep an eye on him
While undrafted free agent Dane Sanzenbacher has earned a lot of attention in training camp, another undrafted free agent, Kris Adams, has made plays with less fanfare. The 6-3, 195-pound Adams, who had 47 receptions for 1,070 yards and 14 touchdowns at Texas-El Pason last season, caught a touchdown pass from Caleb Hanie with a nice reaching grab in the end zone Thursday.
‘‘Every now and then I get an opportunity, I get balls my way and I try to make the best of them,’’ said Adams, whose college quarterback, Trevor Vittatoe, also is in Bears camp. ‘‘But preseason games are coming up, everybody’s going to get an opportunity then. So that’s when you really want to show what you can do.
‘‘Dane’s getting a lot of balls and he’s making the most of his opportunities. When I get my chance, I’m going to do the same.’’