Chicago Bears rookie defensive tackle Christian Tupou, an undrafted free agent out of USC, has been one of the beneficiaries of the numerous injuries to befall the team's defense this season. Tupou was elevated to the active roster in Week 6 and has been used sparingly since.
Yet against the St. Louis Rams, Tupou was on the field for 27 snaps, by far his most of the 2013 campaign. Bear Report sits down with Tupou to discuss his recent uptick in playing time, the recent struggles against the run and more.
"It's been a grind getting to this point, but now that I am on the regular roster, it's all been worth the effort. What I try to do is to get better every day. I'm never satisfied. I try to stay very calm in all situations on the field. It's not something that I get all worked up about. When I play I try to eliminate all emotion. That's how I played in college and how I've continued here in the NFL. I understand the time I must put in to improve so that is where my focus is right now.
"Take Thanksgiving for example. For me it was just another day that was all about the work. I went to practice, went to our meetings, then headed home to watch film. If you are a young guy on an NFL team, then it is important to work hard all day, every day, even on holidays."
The Rams had a lot of success running the ball last week. What is being done to correct the problem?
"I really have no comment on that other than to say we are practicing hard and working on improving. You'd have to ask the coaches for specific details on every aspect of that.
"Yes, it was discouraging not to get the win but that doesn't change our attitude at all. We're going into the trenches and getting it done. It's a simple matter really, and it's all about hard work."
Looking back to a year ago, did you expect to be where you right now?
"Yes and no. If I hadn't expected to make it to a regular roster at this point in the season, there would have been no point in doing this at all. But I'm never satisfied. I guess a year ago I thought I'd be much better than I seem to be right now.
"It's been quite a ride so far. I was not drafted and entered the NFL as a free agent. I was cut at the end of training camp. Then, I was signed to the practice squad and finally moved to the regular roster. If you have been through a journey like that, you tend to take nothing for granted. You know it's all about producing and showing the coaches that you are making many positive contributions.
"The most important thing I've learned this year is the value of listening, to your coaches and to your teammates in meetings. They will tell you what you need to know. If I soak it all up, I should be fine."
How do you feel about having the opportunity at extended playing time recently?
"I loved it. That's why I'm here. As a young player there is no substitute for being out there in a game-day situation. You can watch from the sidelines or study game film, that's really not the same in terms of the learning curve. Mine is still pretty steep, but the more snaps I'm in for, the faster I'll learn how to play effectively.
"It would be an understatement to say there have been changes in our defensive roster this season. You can't do much when a starter goes down except to get the next man up. The Bears have excellent depth as a team. We are well aware that our job is to be ready to go in at all times and to play effectively. It's a matter of self confidence."
Following the loss, was there any change in the tempo of practice this week?
"Honestly, I don't see much of a difference from week to week, whether we've just won a game the Sunday before or if we've lost. It's all of us going all out, all of the time.
"What you try to do is to stay in the moment. You don't want to dwell on the past, whether it is positive or negative, and you don't want to project too far into the future. To make the playoffs everybody knows it's important to win out, so we aim to that goal. So we work in minute detail, every aspect of technique on every play. We're after perfection.
"I prefer not to say anything about how we are game planning for the Vikings. We are well aware of the strength of their offense. It's up to each and every one of us to get in there and do our jobs correctly. It's all heads-up football. If we play to the best of our abilities, then we are strong."
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.