AL HAMNIK: Corey Wootton's health a very real concern for Bears

2013-08-15T19:45:00Z 2013-08-16T16:00:05Z AL HAMNIK: Corey Wootton's health a very real concern for BearsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 15, 2013 7:45 pm  • 

CHICAGO | Corey Wootton's No. 1 objective at Northwestern was to win a Big Ten championship and, of course, be the best defensive end he could be.

The NFL could wait. There would be no early coming out party.

Wootton's No. 1 objective now with the Bears is to win the Super Bowl. Let the TV cameras and bright lights shine on someone else. Team comes first.

Entering Thursday night's preseason game with the San Diego Chargers, Wootton and second-year player Shea McClellin were locked in the battle for starting left defensive end.

Perennial Pro-Bowler Julius Peppers "owns" the job at right end and it would take dynamite to displace him.

Wootton is more experienced, McClellin a bit quicker – and healthier at the moment. And you know how key good health is to a productive NFL career.

The Bears need Wootton at 100 percent but his right knee has been a concern since he tore the ACL in the 2009 Alamo Bowl and later needed arthroscopic surgery in the summer of 2011.

Wootton did not play in the preaseason opener at Carolina because of a hip and calf injury. McClellin did see action and looked good.

"I think the biggest thing is just trusting yourself," Wootton said earlier in the week. "I went through a period of time where you doubt your ability, you doubt yourself, and you've got to not think about that.

"My parents, my wife, always told me to believe in yourself, believe in what you do, work hard and keep fighting."

Coach Pat Fitzgerald helped him lace up the gloves while at Northwestern.

Wootton's body of work, though short, is impressive. He's appeared in 29 games his first three seasons, started seven of the 16 in 2012, and had a career-high seven sacks.

"I didn't know if I was going to make the team or not (last year). A lot of people were saying I was going to get cut. I knew I had to prove myself. This year I approach it the same way," Wootton said.

"I've got to prove myself all over again, because every year in this league it doesn't matter what you did the year before, it's (what you are doing) currently."

But he's got to be on the field, not the sideline.

"We need accountability from all our players," new coach Marc Trestman said.

McClellin, a first-round pick, will be in the defensive end rotation after appearing in 14 games as a rookie. He started at right end against Carolina while Peppers was given the night off.        .

Wootton says the veteran leadership of Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Peppers should quiet any critics who believe Chicago's aging defense will give up points like an ATM.

"People would say they're old by NFL standards but I don't think they've lost a step at all," Wootton said. "Seeing them out there every day and how they work, I believe they could play five more years if they wanted to.

"They all look great. They're all competing and leading us by example."

Brian Urlacher isn't coming back, so we can we please move on? Briggs starred alongside No. 54 for 10 seasons and will handle the signal-calling just fine.

D.J. Williams, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene and James Anderson will turn more heads than a stylist.

But health will again be the key, as it is with the league's other 31 teams.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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