Chicago Bears defensive lineman Aston Whiteside sat in front of his locker at Halas Hall this week staring directly at the floor.
“I don’t like to look around here too much right now,” Whiteside said. “It’s kind of empty. The first thing that I noticed when I came in here today to change for practice was the number of lockers with no names on them, no equipment inside. It makes me uneasy.”
Whiteside was referring to his 15 former teammates the Bears released this week to trim the roster to the required 75 players.
“I think what you don’t want to dwell on in this business is the transition that occurs,” Whiteside said. “You have guys coming in and guys leaving all the time. I try to keep my head down, stay out of trouble and do well on the field. Anything I can do to keep my name off of that cut list works for me.”
Whiteside was a free agent with Dallas last year until he was waived midway through the Cowboys’ training camp. A week after leaving Dallas, the Texas native was signed by the Bears, where he spent the majority of the 2012 season on the practice squad.
A college and NFL defensive end, who was one of the top high school fullbacks in Texas, Whiteside has the pedigree and versatility to do well at this level. As a pass rusher for Abeline Christian, Whiteside received first-team All-Lone Star Conference honors, along with being named defensive player of the year and defensive lineman of the year.
“I have had a chance to maximize my talents,” Whiteside said. “From work on offense, I learned to how use speed while blocking effectively. On defense, I have learned to leverage my weight and use my hands on the line while still utilizing that speed. I enjoyed working both positions, but defense has become my favorite.”
At 6-2 265, Whiteside has the bulk and the agility to become a force on the line, whether that be at defensive tackle or defensive end. Yet he admits he still needs to work on his overall technique.
“It may sound strange for me to say that,” he said. “I have been playing football since third grade. I was a starter in grade school, in high school and in college. You’d think that by this time I’d know what I’m doing on the field. But I think that with maturity comes the realization that you do not know it all – not on the field, not in life. I am more than willing to put in the time to take every aspect of my technique apart and reconstruct it until I doing things correctly.”
And although Whiteside comes from a small town and played for a small college, he feels comfortable working at this level in a big city.
“I had three cousins who started in the NFL while I was in college: Scott, the running back for Cincinnati; Gates, the receiver for the Jets; and Richardson, the running back from the Rams. They’re all offensive players so how did I get here on defense? I guess I already did that in high school.”
As far as job security, Whiteside isn’t certain where he stands with Bears brass. On the depth chart, he’s listed with the third team, although he has taken plenty of snaps with the second team. On the bubble right now, Whiteside should see significant playing time in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns. And then the waiting begins, with further cuts due by the end of the week.
“I’m just taking things day by day and trying not to worry about things too much,” he said. “I feel I’ve mastered the playbook. I’m comfortable in the system. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter which college you came from, how small your hometown is. We’re all here together now and what happens from here on is what counts. I’m a hard worker and I feel I have a chance to stay. I’m so thankful for this opportunity. I hope I am around to keep contributing to this team.”
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.