Anderson likes feel of starting role

Reed Schreck

Mark Anderson is thinking of a number.

Like most defensive ends in the NFL, the second-year Chicago Bear has set a goal for how many sacks he wants to get this season. It’s just that he’s not telling.

Maybe at the end of the year.

While not revealing the exact figure, he smiled when asked if it had a ‘2’ at the front. Then he asked what the record was, which is 22 by Michael Strahan.

He smiled again.

"I have some goals, but I don’t like speaking of them," he said. "They’re pretty high — you’ll see at the end of the season."

Last year at this time, few people knew the potential Mark Anderson had. He was injured (leg) throughout training camp, and wasn’t activated until Chicago’s regular-season opener.

Eventually, people discovered what he could do.

Twelve sacks in 16 games will make you famous. More importantly, it landed him a starting job at veteran Alex Brown’s expense.

The position is his to lose as the Bears head into their third week of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University.

"It’s all fun," said Anderson, with another one of those smiles. "We all go out and compete with each other every day.

"I’m loving it. I love having somebody push me all the time. That’s how I give it my best."

Anderson only started one game as a rookie, yet was eighth in the NFL in sacks. He was the league’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for October. He added 48 tackles, including three for losses, five quarterback hits, two passed broken up, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Anderson said sitting out his rookie training camp might have helped him be fresh when he was able to play. Not that he minds sweating through practices with his teammates now.

"The only difference being a starter is in getting tired," he said. "Other than that, this is what I do. You’re going to go 40-some snaps every game, you got to get used to it."

Despite his short career, opposing defensive coordinators now know they have to account for Anderson. His days of sneaking up on people definitely are over.

"I’ve always been the underdog," he said. "I’ve never really gotten the big hype. I like it that way, where I have to go out there and prove myself. It helps motivate me and make me a better player."

Now that he’s not overlooked, he knows what he needs to do.

"Just go out there and do the same things," he said. "I worked hard in the offseason to work on a little stuff. I’ll try to bring that into the upcoming season, and hopefully it will pay off."

There’s no doubt about Anderson’s pass-rushing skills. Even if his run defense isn’t comparable doesn’t mean it’s deficient. Otherwise, he wouldn’t bump Brown from his spot.

In Chicago’s gap-oriented defense, Anderson knows he has to charge upfield and make plays.

"The linebackers will fill up the hole after that," he said.

Head coach Lovie Smith is comfortable placing so much responsibility on such a young player. In explaining why he promoted Anderson, Smith said, "Him taking care of his health and getting healthy is one of them."

"When Mark has been healthy on the field, he’s been a good football player. We try to do just that. I know it’s a simple answer, but that’s the first thing. He can play. Now that he’s ready to go, we’ll start getting him into the mix along with the rest of the guys."

Brown hasn’t hid his displeasure with his demotion. The third end in the rotation, Adewale Ogunleye, simply calls it "a coach’s decision."

"The way I look at it, he (Anderson) earned it. Everybody still is going to have a chance. Alex is still going to have a chance to go out there and prove himself.

"Mark proved it last year. He played hard. He’s a great player. We’re just going to go out there and compete with each other, and at the end of the day the best players are going to play."

Anderson, of course, doesn’t want to lose what he’s gained. He knows what he did to get the attention and what he has to do to keep it coming.

"Just being able to go out there every game," he said in explaining the improvement he made. "Make a big play in a game. They’ve seen my talents were pretty good. I just went out there and gave it my all. A chance came and I had to capitalize on it.

"This basically is my first full training camp. I’m just trying to stay healthy."

Still, won’t it be hard to live up to his 12-sack showing last season?

"I don’t think so," he said. "If I just go out there and do what I do, especially doing my assignments and what the coaches want me to do."

Then he might get more than a dozen.

How many more, remember, he’s just not telling.

Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or rschreck@rrstar.com.