Last year, in an effort to make an impression as an undrafted free agent, rookie wide receiver Joe Anderson stayed late after virtually every single practice. Working with a few other young skill players and quarterback Matt Blanchard, a crew of mostly unheralded players organized throwing sessions to get a few valuable extra reps in hopes of earning a leg up as they competed for a roster spot or a chance to hang around on the practice squad.
The life of a UFA is an uncertain one. You're guaranteed nothing, and if everything goes right you get a handful of opportunities to turn someone's head and create enough optimism to warrant sticking around.
The guys who succeed are usually the ones who work harder and prove that they're willing to do something extra that the next guy won't. The same is true for Anderson.
He had a solid camp working with the threes at wide receiver and showed that he was willing to use his body with reckless abandon on special teams. He wasn't the strongest, biggest or fastest, nor was he the weakest, smallest or slowest. He was your regular "Average" Joe.
Ultimately, he did enough to merit a spot on the practice squad, and in Week-14 when Robbie Gould was placed on injured reserve for the year, he got his shot on the active roster as a reserve wide receiver and special teams guy. In the final three weeks of the season, he made a few big special teams plays, and now, because of that, he finds himself poised to nab one of the last spots on the 53-man roster in 2013.
"It was a blessing from God," Anderson said of getting his shot in 2012. "I wasn't surprised, I was just patient. I kept working hard everyday and doing what I was asked by the coaches. I wanted to prove that I was coachable, and I tried to take advantage of my opportunity everyday on the practice squad."
While Joe Anderson made the most of his time on the practice squad, for most, it's a gut-wrenching experience. Spots aren't guaranteed, and while you can live relatively comfortably on your wages, the job comes without any real security.
For Anderson, whose faith seems to not only anchor his personality, but to drive his performance, that meant 14 weeks of complete uncertainty in 2012. And while he played well on the active roster the final three weeks of the season, he'll have at least three more weeks of relative uncertainty in 2013 as he aims to impress the new staff, though he insists he has no expectations.
"I don't have hopes. I just pray, man," Anderson said. "I'm out here like everybody else with an opportunity. I'm just gonna come out here and work hard and keep pushing."
And he'll have to if he hopes to force the Bears to carry six wide receivers in 2013.
On Sunday, with the Bears donning the pads for the first time in training camp this season, he looked not only like a guy who could make the roster, but a guy who could make an impact, even beyond special teams. He worked with the twos, and while Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Devin Aromash0du, and Eric Weems are veterans who figure to make the roster, Joe Anderson, at times, looked like the fourth best pass-catching option the Bears have.
He made an acrobatic diving catch on an errant Matt Blanchard throw in one-on-ones, but balanced that out with a fumble during team drills after being stripped by Craig Steltz. However, ultimately, it will be Anderson's special teams play that determines whether or not he makes the active roster, and he has a new coaching staff to impress.
That includes new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, whose drills have some rather interesting quirks, including using volleyballs and exercise balls to simulate different special teams situations.
"Joe D brings a lot of energy and he expects the best from all of us," Anderson said. "He really stresses technique — everything is technique, technique. So he forces us to come out here and really put that all together."
At this stage of camp, it's hard to get an accurate portrayal of the depth chart, but as it currently stands, it appears as if Joe Anderson is competing for one of the last spots on the roster. Things can (and will) change between now and cuts, but Anderson looks to be locked in a battle with rookie Marquess Wilson — an impressive athlete who made an unbelievable catch of his own during one-on-ones — and fellow second-year UFA Brittan Golden, and several new faces to the organization for the sixth wide receiver spot.
And while he may not have any expectations toward making the roster, I expect that his limited experience and his abilities as a special-teamer will give him a significant edge.
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