Absence Provides Opportunity

Although defensive coordinator Ron Rivera would prefer to have Lance Briggs on the field, he's trying to find the silver lining in the Pro Bowl linebacker missing another round of organized team activities. At this point, it appears Leon Joe is the beneficiary.

Thanks to Briggs skipping the OTAs, Joe, who would normally see second team reps, is getting a shot to work with the starters on the weak-side. Joe started three games at strong-side linebacker last year when Hunter Hillenmeyer missed time with a thumb injury.

"The thing that Leon did for us last year was that in a pinch he played a couple of positions for us," Rivera said. "This is just an opportunity for him to kind of broaden his understanding of what we're trying to do."

Despite entering just his third season in the league, Joe has already had a journeyman type career. He originally landed with the Bears as a fourth round pick out of Maryland in the 2004 draft, but he got cut after just one regular season game. He finished his rookie campaign with Arizona.

However, the Cardinals waived Joe early in training camp last season and general manager Jerry Angelo jumped at the chance to atone for what he called his "biggest regret" as far as a personnel decision.

Joe went onto to appear in 14 games for the Bears and become a force on kick and punt coverage. He finished second on the team with 20 special teams tackles.

The Bears eventually see Joe developing into more than a role player. The six-foot-1, 235-pounder is the ideal linebacker for the defensive scheme in terms of his athleticism.

"The nice thing is that Leon's quickness and speed are showing and it's giving him a good opportunity to get a lot of work," Rivera said.

During his first stint in Chicago, Joe struggled to pick up the defense. Additional reps in now should mean a better understanding of the system, which will allow his ability to show up on the field over the course of the season and beyond.

At the conclusion of the recent mini-camp, Coach Lovie Smith commented on the biggest change a player makes between their first and second season. Considering Joe's lack of experience the idea also applies to his situation.

"I think you get a chance to really see the player when they know exactly what they're doing," Smith said. "So just being in the system, knowing your plays and knowing what's expected of you and then just letting the natural talent come out."

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