Monday, June 11
Brendon and Obafemi Ayanbadejo seem to be about as close as siblings can possibly be. Not only do they finish each other's sentences, but their physical resemblance is close enough to cause possible confusion in the locker room. And as far as both are concerned, that's fine with them.
"We've always been close," Obafemi said at Halas Hall on Monday. "When we played together for the Dolphins in 2003, I think we were just too young to take advantage of it. Looking back now, we both see that time as somewhat of a wasted opportunity. We're both very competitive, and also we love to play practical jokes on each other. We could have had a lot more fun together both on and off the field."
The opportunity for sibling bonding and possible future hijinks has come once again as the Bears signed Obafemi, who was released last weekend from the Arizona Cardinals.
"It was sudden, kind of a shock," Obafemi said. "I had a meeting with the new head coach of the Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt, shortly after he was hired. While the words we spoke at that time seemed cordial enough and I was told that there would be a place for me on the Cardinals roster, something just felt off to me. I wasn't that sure that I'd be a good fit for Whisenhunt's system."
When Obafemi finally heard last week that he'd been released, he felt both frustration and relief.
"It can be tough in this league," he said. "I've been playing as a pro for 11 years now, and I've played for four teams. I sort of shook my head and headed home to San Diego. Then I got a call from the Bears, and things seemed to be looking up again.”
Obafemi said that several other teams had made inquiries as well, but that for now at least, there was only one team on his list.
"Brendon and I grew up in Chicago," he said. "This is our hometown. To get a chance to play for the Bears alongside my brother would be a dream come true. I can't imagine a scenario better than that one."
"You know this is the kind of thing Obafemi and I had discussed for years," he said. "We kept wondering if there wouldn't be a team that could use both of us. We were always planning between ourselves how this could be done. This could be the chance."
One advantange for Brendon would be that Obafemi no longer could take what he terms "cheap shots" at his younger brother in game day situations.
"I did it all to Brendon," Obafemi said. "After all, I'm older. That's the advantage of being a big brother. I remember one really great hit I got on Brendon when the Bears were in Arizona last year. I knew pretty much where he was headed down the field, so I lined myself just so. Right in his trajectory. I hit him hard from the side. He never saw me there. The ref was nearby, but I don't think he saw the play in its entirety. All I know is that Brendon went down. I got a block, and there was no penalty."
But what about Devin Hester's memorable return for a score in that same game?
"I swear he wasn't in my part of the field," Obafemi said. "And I sure wasn't the last player he blew by. He ran down the sidelines after veering off from the center of the field. It wasn't my territory. But I have to say I'd be really glad to be on the same team with Devin rather than facing him. That guy's really fast."
As far as what he can contribute to the Bears, Obafemi is open to suggestions and has a few of his own as well.
"I'd do whatever the coaches tell me to do," he said. "I'm primarily a fullback, That's where I lined up for the Cardinals. I can do special teams. Wherever the need might be, I'd be glad to step in. I'm experienced, and I'm quick to learn the plays."
Wednesday, June 13
Devin Hester was once again the center of attention on offense at Wednesday's practice session, at one point earning applause from his teammates for a deftly-executed backhanded catch.
Any questions as to Hester's ability to make the switch from defense to offense have been answered by his activity on the field. And if anything, the transition from one side of the ball to the other seems to have brought even more of Hester's innate ability to light.
For Hester himself, there was some doubt initially about making the switch. Finally, it was all a matter of watching film.
"I wondered if I could play effectively on offense," Hester said after Wednesday's session. "I talked to the coaches about it during the offseason, and although they all expressed confidence that I could do it, I still wasn't convinced. Finally, I just took the time to study game film. To my surprise, it didn't look that hard and not unlike what I'd been doing up to that point. I thought if these guys could do it, I could do it. And so far at least, it's worked out quite well."
Hester has spent the majority of his time during recent OTAs working with quarterback Rex Grossman.
"We're trying to get our timing down," Hester said. "I think that once we're in sync, this should be a good situation for the team."
As Hester sees it, he'll be able to contribute even when he doesn't actually have his hands on the ball.
"The Bears have some great players on offense already," he said. "Did you see the catches [Mark] Bradley and [Bernard] Berrien were making today? Acrobatic, difficult moves for sure. And [Muhsin Muhammad], he's the veteran who knows what this position is all about. Every time I watch him, I'm impressed. If I can learn from them and do as well as they do, then it will all be good."
Hester sees himself functioning as a decoy more often than not, at least during the early part of the season.
"I think when I'm out there, it will tend to distract the defense a little bit," he said. "They'll be facing me and be wondering where I'll be going next. I could stand in one part of the field and get their attention while, say, Bradley is way downfield getting the catch for a score. The fact that the opposing defense will know that I'm fast and I can catch the ball should give them something additional to worry about. It will increase our offensive options immeasurably."
Although Muhammed admits to some mixed feelings, he's glad to help Hester learn the nuances of the Bears' offensive scheme.
"I remember not that long ago when I was the new, hot, young player," Muhammad said. "So I think I understand where Devin is coming from right now. I'm happy to take whatever role I'm given out there. If I'm a primary receiver, fine. If I'm an added dimension, that's okay, too."
As one of the more experienced offensive players for the Bears, Muhammad has naturally fallen into the role of mentor.
"What I'm doing right now is working with Devin to ease his transition and to help make him the best player at this position that he can possibly be," he said. "I think the more weapons we have out there the better. It's all about scoring points, and anything that increases the ability of the team as a whole has to be a positive."
Hester seems to be following Muhammad's advice on how to relax and enjoy the new challenges of working into the system.
"Everything will resolve itself in due time," Hester said. "I know now that I can do this effectively. There's still a lot to learn but I'm really having fun. It makes me wonder why I ever had any hesitation about making this change."
|Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for the last six 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.