By Jeff Joniak
Starting nose tackle Stephen Paea starts his third season with a strong mind and body, after a full off-season of training devoid of injury. During his first Senior Bowl practice in 2011, Paea tore his right lateral meniscus. It set him back for his rookie season, but the 53rd overall pick of the draft debuted in week six to sack Minnesota quarterback Donovan McNabb for a safety.
In the 2012 off-season, Paea battled a nagging shoulder injury and a sprained ankle, but still started 14 games. Taking 60 percent of the defensive snaps, he proved to be a penetrating disruptor, collecting at least a sack, pressure, or tackle-for-loss in 11 of his starts. Paea flashed more of the same in the opener against the Bengals. Nine years ago, he couldn’t speak English. He moved from his native Tonga to the United States, bouncing from Lawrence, Kansas to Provo, Utah and then to Oregon State and Chicago. He’s also a new dad after the birth of triplets over the summer.
Watching rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills handle themselves throughout the off-season, training camp, and now as starters at right guard and right tackle, I’m impressed by their demeanor, good nature and maturity. Mills turns 23, 19 days after Long turns 25 in December. I’ve always felt strongly about four-year players with at least 30 college starts not being overwhelmed by the NFL.
Mills started at left guard at Louisiana Tech as a true freshman and went on to start 34 games at right tackle for one of the premier offensive systems in college football. As a senior, he made 21 touchdown resulting blocks, the most at the school since Willie Roaf in 1991. Long made only five starts at Oregon, but when his Florida State baseball experience went sideways, he matured from the rebound. They are fortunate to get in on the ground floor of the new Bears offense tutored by a skilled line coach in Aaron Kromer and a talented play caller like Marc Trestman.
I spoke with 1963 NFL Champion Bears Ed O’Bradovich, Johnny Morris, Bob Kilcullen, J.C. Caroline and Richie Pettibone this week. Fifty years after they beat the New York Giants 14- 10, they will be honored Sunday during the team’s annual alumni weekend. If you love football, you can’t help but admire the pride each player had in winning the championship, not only for themselves, but for George Halas, the fans and the city.
They all spoke of the great defense that held opponents under 10 points per game, but also of a ball control offense that chewed the clock, and the toughness of young tight end Mike Ditka that set a tone each week. They all referenced the first meeting with the Green Bay Packers that season and the opening kickoff hit on special teams by Caroline on Herb Adderly of the Packers.
Morris said when the team finished reviewing the tape of that game on Monday players broke into applause they were so impressed with Caroline’s hit.
“I have never seen that ever happen before, or since where the entire team applauded J.C. Caroline for what he did in that game on special teams,” Morris said. You can hear more from the 1963 Bears Sunday morning at 10:10 during pregame coverage on WBBM Newsradio 780AM and 105.9 FM.
Fourth and Short
Adrian Peterson of the Vikings runs angry. You’ve heard it described that way before. He’s the best tackle breaker in the NFL. I asked Stephen Paea, who is one of the strongest players in the NFL, what it feels like to hit Peterson. “An average running back, they run through the hole and you put your arm in there, they trip, and fall down. You can’t arm tackle Adrian Peterson. He’s like that guy you make up in Madden that has the 99 speed, 99 strength, 99 stiff arm, 99 everything.”
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.