There’s just something about the “Sam” linebacker in the Bears’ defense – he’s probably going to fly under the radar.
Hunter Hillenmeyer did it for six seasons in Chicago.
“I definitely was the ‘other’ linebacker,” Hillenmeyer said. “Whenever you’re playing next to two future Hall-of-Fame-caliber guys like Lance [Briggs] and Brian [Urlacher], you’re already going to be the other guy, regardless of anything else.”
After Hillenmeyer retired, Nick Roach assumed the role for three seasons, playing back seat to the “Will” and “Mike” linebackers, Briggs and Urlacher.
Even with Urlacher retired, the tradition has continued with Roach’s replacement, James Anderson.
“That’s kind of been my career. I’ve done my business and did what I had to do,” Anderson said about a career being somewhat unknown in Carolina, despite leading the Panthers in tackles in 2010 and ’11.
Briggs is obviously the focal point of the Bears’ linebackers, and rightfully so. Next has been D.J. Williams, Urlacher’s replacement. Even rookie Jon Bostic, who didn’t play a single snap of defense in the opener, sometimes has gotten more attention than Anderson, who played every snap in his Bears debut.
“To me, it’s not a big deal. I’ve come in and realized, being an older player, that if you’re talking about Lance Briggs, you’re talking about all of us,” Anderson said. “If you’re talking about Jon Bostic, you’re talking about all of us.
“It’s a team game – one guy does well, we all do well.”
Anderson had a strong performance in his first game as a Bear, making five tackles and two crucial passes defensed, including one on the Bengals’ final offensive play of the game.
“He’s a pro’s pro. His football IQ is off the charts,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “He has the intangibles, the instincts and all that stuff, but on top of that, he can make the plays. He runs, he hits, he can cover. Those are guys you can win with big time.”
Hillenmeyer explained that when playing on the strong side, sometimes you’re naturally going to be forgotten in this system.
“The setup of the defense is such that the ‘Sam’ is the grinder position,” he said. “He’s the one that takes on iso blocks. A lot of times, he’s the one doing the dirty work so that somebody else can make the tackle.
“A good ‘Sam’ isn’t necessarily going to show up on the stat sheet with a bunch of huge plays, but a lot of ways, it’s his hard work that leads to a lot of the other big plays that other guys get a chance to make.”
Anderson compared his role on the defense to a position on offense known for not getting any respect. In fact, it’s a position that some teams don’t even employ.
“I’m kind of like the fullback,” Anderson said. “I take on blockers, get my job done.”
Anderson is different than the “Sams” before him, as he is helping cover the pass in the nickel with Urlacher gone. If he keeps playing as well as he did in the opener in that role, though, he won’t be anonymous much longer.
Especially in a town that revels its linebackers, and Anderson happens to wear the famous “50” on his back, the first to do so since Mike Singletary. Still, Anderson is quick to defer to his teammates.
“People will [talk about] who they want to, that’s life,” Anderson said. “I’m a Bear. If you’re talking about one of us, you’re talking about all of us.”
• Kevin Fishbain covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.