For Chicago Bears third-year defensive tackle Stephen Paea, standing on the sidelines with a turf toe injury the past two weeks has been the most difficult stretch of his career to this point, as he hates to be bored.
"I've been out a few weeks now," Paea said this week. "You'd think a toe injury would be minor but it’s the kind of situation where you need to be careful not to re-injure it and make things worse. I’ve been standing on the sidelines watching what's going on. I'm usually writing down plays as well. I take the time to talk to the rookies as well. I like to give them encouragement and maybe some tips."
As the recent father of triplets, Paea knows all about routine and scheduling.
"In order to get any sleep at all, my wife and I have our own team in place,” he said. “Nannies, relatives, we have this all lined up. In a sense it was the football training that came into play once we knew that our family would be growing so substantially. I viewed it as a team situation and to this point things have worked out well."
Yet as much as he is enjoying fatherhood, Paea would rather be making decisions in game-day situations, instead of planning the next diaper change.
"Watching the guys on defense go down with injuries and not being able to step up and help the team has been tough,” he said. “The desire to help is there but he reality has been that I've had to stay on the sidelines."
Over the past month, the Bears have lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins to season-ending ACL injuries, and yesterday it was announced that starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams is also done for the year. The team will turn to rookie Jon Bostic to man the middle, a player who has already earned the confidence of his teammates.
"He's been great,” said Paea. “In the preseason he showed a lot of flash. He knows we all need to b ready to step up. He came right in and made plays. Jon has showed tremendous poise as a first-year player. We've all been impressed. Now with D.J. Williams down, the pressure on Jon to perform will be even greater. We all have confidence in his abilities and he knows we'll have his back if he needs us."
Paea practiced yesterday and says he feels “comfortable and ready to go full speed.”
"Of course the final game-day decision is not up to me, but my input definitely would be that I'm feeling good and I'm ready to play. I've been patient through this but the boredom is getting worse by the day. I’ve had a lot of time off, a lot of time to think. I'm a football player and I want to play."
The Bears desperately need Paea’s presence on the field, as the defense was a sieve against the Giants’ rushing attack last week. Things were so bad that 31-year-old Brandon Jacobs, who was pulled off the street a few weeks ago, piled up more than 100 yards rushing.
"There's room for improvement on that right now,” Paea said. “Our job is to stop the run and get after the quarterback. It’s all about discipline and focus. That's how we win games. Linebackers, safeties, we all have to be making those tackles. We're working through all of that right now on the practice field. I hope to be part of the effort on the field this Sunday."
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.