The Chicago Bears have three solid defensive ends at the top of the depth chart: Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. Beyond those three, a fierce competition has been underway since late July for the final defensive end spot on the roster.
That battle includes Kyle Moore, Cheta Ozougwu and sixth-round rookie Cornelius Washington, who helped himself on Friday with a late-game pass deflection and sack against the Oakland Raiders.
Washington began training camp with the third team but has slowly worked his way into a rotation with the second team. With Ozougwu sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Washington could be in a position to earn a roster spot on the final 53-man roster, particularly if the coaching staff keeps six defensive ends.
Bear Report correspondent Beth Gorr goes one-on-one with Washington heading into the last week of the preseason.
“It’s all good for me right now. I’m working hard but having a lot of fun. Things are getting very intense during this last week of practice. Each time we approach a preseason game, things move faster. I’m learning more about what you have to do to be ready to go. We’re watching a lot of game film, putting in the schemes and formulating our plans.
“Oakland was a hostile environment. I’m sure that won’t be the only stadium that is that way as we continue through road games. It’s something you just need to learn to put aside. We had a lot of pretty intense games when I played college ball in Georgia. I’m sure there will be more of that same feeling.”
“I’m getting an education by watching the vets play, then being out on the field myself. I’m trying to get as much playing time as I possibly can as you can’t get anything better than actual game experience.
“My playing time increased some between the game in Carolina and last week at Soldier Field. I’m hoping to be out there even more in the finale. The more I can play the more I get into what I call game rhythm, a game mentality. That’s when things even out and I’m functioning at a high level. Special teams work helped considerably with that because I had more plays with that unit than with the defense. My best play came with special teams on our long kickoff return [in Week 2].”
What has surprised you the most at this point in your NFL career?
“That I haven’t had to radically alter my technique in to play in the NFL. My fundamentals are sound, thanks to the coaching at Georgia. It was somewhat similar to what I am getting right now. That definitely makes things a little easier.
“What I am trying to do is speed things up, get moving quicker once the ball is snapped. That comes from experience and having a certain level of comfort on the playing field. If you are nervous, you aren’t going to be moving that quickly.
“As we get closer to the beginning of the regular season, I am noticing some slight changes in the approach during practice. It’s hard to explain. We are still doing the reps and we’re moving fast, but the emphasis seems to be more to the long-term. We definitely focus on the team we’re about to play, but we are also putting things in place that we’ll be using throughout the regular season.
“I love road trips. They’re definitely business trips. It’s all very serious until the game is played. The routine the Bears have in place works really well. We get meeting time, practice time, and enough of a chance to rest so we aren’t completely worn out before the first snap of the game. I like traveling, love to stay in hotels.”
Are the hotels that pro teams stay in are much nicer than what I stayed in traveling with the Bulldogs?
“The answer might surprise you. Our college team hotels were as nice as the NFL hotels. But then, Georgia had a very upscale program. Also I’m speaking on this from very limited experience as far as traveling in the NFL.”
Are you superstitious at all and do you have pregame routine?
“No to both. I take things as they come and don’t worry much. Before a game I do what everybody else does. I have my meal, go to meetings, travel to the stadium, then suit up. Nothing special there.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to Soldier Field next week. All I want to do is be out there, work hard and learn. If I do well and execute what the coaches ask, then it’s all good.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.