On the NFL
6:19 PM CDT, June 13, 2013
Brandon Marshall's hip problems have prevented him from participating much in offseason drill work for the Bears. Alshon Jeffery sat out minicamp with a hamstring injury. Devin Hester isn't even wearing the same-colored jersey as the receivers — he no longer is a part of the offense.
So that has left a cornucopia of snaps, and opportunities, for others.
And if this were September, Joe Anderson might be starting on Sunday.
The second-year undrafted free agent has been practicing with the first string quite a bit this offseason, and he has taken advantage of it.
"We've seen good improvement in Joe," wide receivers coach Mike Groh said. "As it has slowed down for him mentally, his speed has been more evident on the field. He's made good progress and had a very productive spring."
Anderson might be the most unlikely Bear. A product of a 4-7 FCS team at Texas Southern who caught 47 passes as a senior, he was not exactly a hot commodity on draft day.
But the Texans apparently took a liking to him after he had a killer workout for them. They had some long conversations with him in the days leading up to the draft, leaving Anderson with the impression they would take him in the fourth round.
They did not take him at all, nor did any other team.
That put a damper on the draft party his family held for him. Afterward, a discouraged Anderson found himself alone in his mother's bedroom, crying, praying and telling God he wouldn't give up.
The next morning, the phone rang. On the other line was Bears player development director Isaiah Harris, offering a tryout at rookie camp.
"I said, 'I'll take that,' " Anderson said. "All I asked for is an opportunity. That's all I needed."
Anderson was so impressive in his three-day tryout that the Bears signed him and brought him to training camp. He made the practice squad coming out of the preseason.
At one point, two teams were trying to sign Anderson to their 53-man roster from the Bears' practice squad. Anderson turned them down to stay.
"Nobody else gave me a chance coming out," he said. "The Bears gave me a chance; that's who I want to be with. At the end of the day, it was the best decision I made."
The Bears put Anderson on their 53-man roster Dec. 11, and in three games he made a mark on special teams. The ability he showed there might set him apart from some of the other receivers he is competing with.
But what really sets him apart is energy and passion. Last season, teammates kept pleading with him to slow down in practice, not to play so hard.
"I told them I can't afford to," he said. "Maybe the first- and second-round pick can, but I can't."
By now, the rest of the players know Anderson won't slow down, so they save their breath.
Anderson also has been working hard off the field, spending a lot of time with Groh.
"In the installation meetings, he's right there next to me," Groh said. "He's very inquisitive. He wants to know what to do, how to do it and why we do it."
Anderson said he works so hard because he doesn't want to go home, where there isn't much going on except drugs. He sees it as his responsibility to set an example for those back in Texarkana, Ark., who are looking up to him, including his little brother.
"It's not just about me, it's about me being a blessing to other people by helping them achieve their goals," he said. "If I can make it, they can make it."
Anderson came to the Bears as an immature young man. The team believes he is maturing quickly, physically and mentally.
"His strength is apparent in the run game and in man-to-man situations," Groh said. "He doesn't get knocked around. He makes contested plays. He has strong hands."
Anderson believes someday, with much hard work, he could become like Marshall, "a $50 million guy." He knows it may seem unlikely to some, but getting this far may have seemed unlikely as well.
"It was so much about the grace of God how I got here," he said. "And I don't intend on going anywhere else."
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