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Bears can save Vernon Gholston if he just keeps listening

Bears defensive end VernGholst(94) brings down Bills’ Marcus Easley last Saturday his first game actiunder defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Bears defensive end Vernon Gholston (94) brings down the Bills’ Marcus Easley last Saturday in his first game action under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:25AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Bears defensive end Vernon Gholston isn’t very comfortable talking about his days with the New York Jets.

Three seasons, zero sacks, tens of thousands of critics.

That’s not exactly the career path a No. 6 overall draft pick is supposed to take.

Then, when it seemed it couldn’t get worse for the former Ohio State standout in the court of public opinion, Rex Ryan’s book Play It Like You Mean It hit the stands in the spring. This is the same Rex Ryan who, when he became the Jets coach, promised of Gholston, ‘‘If he doesn’t do it for this team, he’s never going to do it.’’

In the book, Rexy pulled no punches, writing, ‘‘I didn’t like the kid coming out of college. He’s a good athlete and a smart guy. But I thought he was a phony.’’

On the list of labels you never want to wear as an NFL player, ‘‘phony’’ is near the bottom, just above ‘‘coward’’ and ‘‘soft.’’

Ryan later told the New York media that it was Gholston’s college stats and combine numbers that were phony, not Gholston himself, but the damage was done.

‘‘The thing for me is that it doesn’t bother me so much because I know what kind of football player I can be, given the role I should have,’’ Gholston said, addressing his critics and the idea he has been a bust. ‘‘You ask anyone that was with me in New York — as far as what I was asked to do, I did it, and I did it pretty well.’’

Making excuses or pointing out the truth?

That’s what the Bears are hoping to find out now that they have signed Gholston and made him one of several reclamation projects.

In Gholston’s defense, his success in college came with his hand on the ground at the defensive end spot. The Jets, who were coached by Eric Mangini at the time, picked him as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. It had disaster written all over it from the beginning.

Then Ryan took over in 2009, and by the time the season ended, Gholston had been moved back to end.

He was given his walking papers March 2.

‘‘It’s one of those things that people can say what they want to say. Things just didn’t work out in New York,’’ Gholston said. ‘‘But at the end of the day, I did what they asked me to do. That’s all you can do for any job. For me it was about coming here and doing more and filling more of the role I thought I should be in the NFL. That’s being a defensive end, coming off the edge, that type of thing.’’

The problem with pro athletes — pick a sport — is sometimes they’re the last to realize it’s over. Excuses are made, bad play is rationalized. For now, it’s too early to throw Gholston in that pile.

His strengths in college were his speed and athleticism coming off the edge to cause chaos. The Bears’ defense is based on speed and athleticism looking to cause chaos. Now add that defensive coordinator Rob Marinelli is as good as it gets in the NFC. It’s proving time.

‘‘I think he’s gotten better, small things,’’ Marinelli said of Gholston’s camp so far. ‘‘It’s not a gigantic leap, but small things. Whether it’s his takeoff, what he’s looking at, getting to an edge. . . . He has to keep progressing. We’ll keep working with him, believing in him, and it will come.’’

On his side of things, all Gholston seems concerned about is listening to the coaching and doing what he’s asked to do.

Worrying about what’s fair? That went out the window in a New York minute.

‘‘I’m not worried about a fair shot and all of that,’’ Gholston said. ‘‘At the end of the day, this is a job. When I go into work, they tell me what to do, that’s what I’m going to do. Just like you, anyone else. When the day comes when they let you go, fire you, you retire, whatever, that’s what happens.

‘‘I’ve admired a defense like this from afar. This is the place I really want to play football.’’

And it’ll be his last chance.

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