Stats tell the story for Idonije; Big day against Panthers shows all the hard work pays off for DE
Eleven days ago, on the Friday before the Bears' mess at the New Meadowlands, defensive end Israel Idonije insisted he and his defensive line would get a payoff for their lack of sacks.
The pressures were there -- a point Pro Bowl quarterbacks Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers reinforced -- but the sacks were not.
''Every week I've been telling myself, 'Hey, next week is going to be better, next week is going to be better, and eventually it will break,''' Idonije said.
The floodgates finally opened Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Idonije dominated right tackle Geoff Schwartz, getting three of the team's five sacks, tying for the team lead with seven tackles (including one for a loss), forcing one fumble and adding two more quarterback pressures. Tack on a sack against the New York Giants, and Idonije leads the Bears with four sacks.
''It felt good just to get out and do what I expect of myself,'' Idonije said. "This is the standard I hold myself to."
Idonije's performance capped a wild few weeks for his unit. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was benched for the Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers, and Mark Anderson -- who had 12 sacks as a rookie -- was replaced on the roster last Tuesday by veteran Charles Grant.
''It was a crazy week for our d-linemen,'' linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said.
At least from the outside, Tinoisamoa said, the perception was that Anderson's ouster was a message that the Bears expected ''some rush from the front men.''
''That's what it looks like, at least,'' he said.
But Tinoisamoa and defensive end Julius Peppers said Idonije deserved the results and accolades.
''That's a tribute to his work ethic and how he's been working in practice,'' Peppers said. ''When you practice hard like that and work, the results come in the game, and that's what you saw.''
Added Bears coach Lovie Smith: ''That is the reason why we went with Israel.''
But there's another reason: Idonije is focusing primarily on defensive end. In past seasons, he was counted on to provide quality snaps at defensive tackle, defensive end and on special teams.
During the offseason, Idonije trimmed down and prepared to battle Anderson in training camp to start opposite Peppers.
''I've been saying that I've been looking for an opportunity to get locked into one position,'' Idonije said. ''So for them to say, 'All right, here's your opportunity, the ball's in your court -- what are you going to do?'''
Tinoisamoa marveled at Idonije's smooth transition.
''He's been moved all around,'' Tinoisamoa said. ''Now that he gets to play one spot, I think it'll only help his growth.
''I don't think we've seen the best of Izzy.''
Anderson appeared to take a lead at the start of training camp, but Idonije asserted himself at the end of the preseason and earned the start in the season opener. Always a stout run defender, Idonije's challenge was reading his keys quickly and getting after the quarterback.
''I know I have all the tools,'' Idonije said. ''But I need to read my keys. Guys like Pep, their instincts are good. That's where I've got to be.''
Idonije acknowledged Anderson's release ''opens up your eyes to what kind of business this is. It's very finite, and it's all about production. Every game, I've been working. So for me, nothing's changed.''
Besides, Idonije said it's incumbent on him to take advantage of the inevitable one-on-one matchups because of Peppers. And as a former defensive tackle, Idonije said, ''I've got to win one-on-ones.''
Opposing offenses have been giving Peppers a lot of different looks, allocating at least one offensive tackle to him and calling upon a tight end or running back to chip him, too.
Idonije usually has to deal with only an offensive tackle. But Peppers is hoping the tables turn.
''It was great,'' he said of Idonije's performance. ''That's a great thing. Hopefully he can continue to do that, and I'll be the one getting some sacks here shortly.
''They'll have to start paying attention to him.''