Bears receiver: 'I ain't going home'

Practice feels like the Super Bowl for Joe Anderson

November 15, 2012|By Jack M Silverstein | For RedEye

You notice Brandon Marshall on the practice field. Damn, there he is. There's Brandon Marshall. Long. Tall. Agile. Fast. Stretching for the football. Leaning so far looks like the field is tilting beneath him.

It's a cool, sunny afternoon at Soldier Field, and the quarterbacks and receivers are running drills. Marshall makes his catch. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett do the same. "Great job, Earl!" Marshall yells from the other side of the field.

Now comes Jason Campbell and the second team. Quick passes to Eric Weems and Dane Sanzenbacher. You notice Weems' diminutive stature and Sanzenbacher's rail-thin body, but you know them. You'll see them on TV.

The second team walks to the other side, and now a receiver wearing No. 19 steps to the line. He is bigger than Weems and Sanzenbacher and Hester, but a definite unknown. If you see him on Sunday, it's because the camera panned across the sideline between plays and caught a dude out of uniform.

But right now, for undrafted rookie Joe Anderson, just being on the sideline is good enough.

"My evaluation is my practice squad," he says the next day in the locker room. "That's my Super Bowl."

He's not exaggerating. After a solid though unimposing senior year at Texas Southern, he was neither drafted nor offered a contract as a rookie free agent. Instead, his shot came at a rookie minicamp in May.

"I was just a tryout guy," he says. "[The Bears] just brought me in for a two-day tryout. I was supposed to be here two days and gone.

"But I took advantage of my opportunity. I opened their eyes. Every day Coach Lovie would be like, 'Make us keep you. Give us a reason to keep you here.' And I'm saying to myself, 'I ain't going home. I've got a son to feed. Nobody's going to feed my child for me. So this is a great opportunity.'"

He stares this reporter dead in the eye as he says the words "I ain't going home," and it's easy to imagine Lovie Smith and the other coaches staring him dead in the eye. Though he is soft-spoken, when he talks about practice his fire is evident.

"I'm relentless. I'm a receiver," he says. "When the ball is thrown to me, that's mines. Whether it's Charles Tillman across from me or Deion Sanders, I gotta get that. Because I gotta eat too. I'm a rookie, I'm still learning, but at the end of the day I'm very, very competitive. I'm not going to bend or fold for anyone."

That Anderson is saying this in an NFL locker room is an achievement not lost on him. He remembers restless nights in college when he would head to the field at 2 in the morning to practice footwork. He remembers his college teammates who turned down his invitations to stay after practice and work out, the same guys who are now calling him asking what they can do to make it to the NFL.

Anderson knows that being on the practice squad is already "a blessing," and that when it comes to creating an NFL career, the odds are against him. But what else is new? As he says, "I ain't no 6-5, no Brandon Marshall. But shoot, I'm 6 feet, 210, and that's big enough."

Indeed. Just like Marshall and the rest of the Bears receivers, when Anderson steps to the line of scrimmage on the practice field, he is the center of the universe. He runs his route, turns his head and catches the ball with his hands. "Nice work, Joe," his coach says, clapping.

And while the All-Pro Marshall trots back to the line to go the other way, the unknown dude wearing No. 19 walks to the back of the group to await his next pass.

Special contributor Jack M Silverstein covers the Bears for RedEye. Say hey @readjack.

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