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Idonije just getting started

(Nam Y. Huh (STF))
The Bears' Israel Idonije is in ninth NFL season, but he looks at it as though it's only his second year. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

BOURBONNAIS – The Bears’ media guide asserts that Israel Idonije is a 30-year-old defensive end about to begin his ninth season in the NFL.

Ignore it.

“This is my second year,” Idonije said.

Trust the player, not the paperwork.

Sure, Idonije entered the league in 2003 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Manitoba. The Bears signed him to their practice squad after he was let go by the Cleveland Browns less than halfway through his rookie season.

In the seven years that followed, Idonije started eight of 86 games.

Last season – in many ways, Idonije’s first season – he started 15 of 16 games.

Now, no question exists as to whether he can be a full-time starter.

“I learned a lot last year,” Idonije said Thursday before the Bears practiced under the lights at Olivet Nazarene University. “It was really my first year starting. I learned a lot about understanding how to keep yourself in game condition, what it takes in order to rush the passer effectively.

“Every snap you get, you get better. All of those things that you practice are great, but the actual in-game experience is invaluable.”

It didn’t take long for Idonije to seize his opportunity. He matched Pro Bowl teammate Julius Peppers with eight sacks to go along with nine quarterback pressures, four tackles for losses and three forced fumbles in 2010.

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Idonije (6-6, 275) could have finished the season with double-digit sacks if not for a couple of missed chances.

“Part of pass rush, everybody will think it’s speed, speed,” Marinelli said. “And that’s part of it. But it’s instincts and awareness and hand placement, and he’s got a really good feel for that. He’s got great length and he’s got a real knack like ‘Pep’ does to get the sack fumble.

“I think he’s a heck of an end. ... I expect him to keep continuing to grow.”

So does Idonije.

Unlike last season, when he competed with ex-teammate Mark Anderson for the starting job opposite Peppers, Idonije entered training camp as the clear-cut starter. He has excelled against tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi during team drills, often closing in on quarterback Jay Cutler before stopping short.

Cutler is off-limits, a fact accentuated by his bright orange practice jersey.

In the regular season, Idonije will be able to rush the passer without restrictions. He’ll do so with the passion of the oldest second-year player on the roster.

“I always felt I could rush the passer,” Idonije said. “It was just a case of getting in there and putting all the things together [last season] and really defining what kind of pass rusher I am on the end.

“What are my signature moves? What is my model for being a successful end? Those last 12 games, I really kind of felt that: ‘All right, this is how I’m going to settle in. This is how I’m going to approach every snap.’

“I was able to fortunately kind of figure it out. Now, in my second year, I’ve got to build on that.”

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