Joseph Anderson enjoys flying under the radar. The 24-year-old wide receiver has always been an underdog and he likes the freedom that role can bring.
"Why wouldn't I want that?" Anderson told Bear Report. "It's the perfect situation if you think about it. There are no expectations. Nobody except the coaches are watching you. There's little head-to-head competition, as I'm not perceived as a threat. Anything good that I am able to do comes as a complete surprise."
Anderson was one of the breakout stars of Chicago Bears 2013 training camp, impressing fans with his speed, agility and playmaking ability. Anderson made the roster easily this season after spending most of last year on the practice squad. He didn't see any time in the opener on offense but he did contribute on special teams.
"It was so much fun," Anderson said. "The noise, the crowds, even that guy who sang the National Anthem (Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison) I had chills down my spine. It was all larger than life. My biggest challenge going into last Sunday was in calming myself down. Remember, I'm a kid from a small school, Texas Southern. On top of that I wasn't even drafted. Talk about pressure to succeed. But I knew that once the game started, I'd settle in and be fine, but the lead up to that kickoff was amazing."
With limited reps on the field, Anderson saw as his role on Sunday as being a student of the game.
"What a show that was", Anderson said. "I watched Cutler throw to Brandon, Alshon, Earl, Martellus, Michael. They are some of the best in the league. Anything I was able to contribute after that was all a bonus. It was exciting to see."
Anderson was particularly impressed with the poise of the offense even after falling behind 11 points in the third quarter.
"No panic, no desperation. They guys knew what they had to do and executed. We ended the day with 21 first downs and 323 net yards. When you're able to do that, good things tend to happen."
In a sense, Anderson feels that he is playing for all the young guys from small schools who must fight their way into the NFL.
"It's talent based" Anderson said. "They need to realize that. Yes there are superstars on every team but we all put on our pads the same way. We wear the same uniform. I was selected for the roster just as they were. The opportunity is there if you have the courage to grab after it."
Only a year ago, Anderson might not have sounded quite so confident. After joining the Bears in camp as an UFA in 2012, he was waived at the end of that summer. Signed to the practice squad shortly thereafter, Anderson labored his craft until being elevated to the regular roster on December 11.
"I'll always remember that day. That's when I knew my dreams were possible." Anderson said.
Anderson prides himself on being a physically and mentally strong player who is versatile and quick. He feels his success comes from an unrelenting work ethic.
"I never take a day off," Anderson said. "I am always studying, working out, doing something football related. Everybody's good in the NFL. The competition at this level is so tough that you can't afford even one day of relaxation. Hard work leads to success."
Anderson has learned that communication is vital to success in football.
"What's different now that I am on the regular roster is that I'm with these guys all the time in meetings and on the field. We socialize on off days. That's how trust is built. I know how they will react, and they understand me. It extends to our work on game day."
One more thing Anderson has learned the past few months: the power of relaxation.
"I don't mean that I'm doing less. I am talking about my expectations for myself," he said. "Last year as a rookie I knew nothing and was always so tense trying to do well. Now I know what the situation is. I let can loose and let the game come to me. I've always had the skills physically because I work hard, but mentally I wasn't quite there until recently. I can allow myself to have fun and amazingly enough, when that happens, my football improves."
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.