CHICAGO – Corey Wootton planted ornery quarterback Philip Rivers into the Soldier Field turf, rose to his feet, and stepped into the national spotlight.
Go ahead, Corey. This is your moment. Celebrate however you’d like.
As thousands watched in person and millions more watched on TV, Wootton did the robot. He bent his arms at the elbows, leaned forward at the waist, and he did the robot.
“When I got there, I was like, ‘You know what? That’s what I’m going to do,’” Wootton said with a laugh after the Bears’ 33-28 preseason win against the San Diego Chargers. “I think it might be my go-to [move]. I’ve just got to get there first.”
It’s a fitting move, because Wootton played like a machine whenever he was on the field during training camp. He challenged prized left tackle Jermon Bushrod, he abused rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, and he proved time and time again that he was the Bears’ best defensive end not named Julius Peppers.
On Thursday, Peppers was one of seven inactive players for the Bears. The prolific veteran’s absence from a measly preseason game was not a major cause for concern, even though coach Marc Trestman said earlier in the week he expected Peppers to play.
But Peppers is 33 years old with 170 regular-season games and 10 playoff games on his résumé, and the NFL can be a cruel place for an aging body.
What if the Bears need another defensive end to lead – be it for a few plays or a few games? What if opponents nullify Peppers with double- and triple-teams? Who can break through?
Maybe Wootton can be that player.
Sure, second-year linemate Shea McClellin
showed some flashes against the Chargers. McClellin never will be mistaken for the World’s Strongest Man, but he has IndyCar speed, which he showed when he blew past block-footed offensive lineman Max Starks on his way to sacking Rivers from the blind side and forcing a fumble.
It’s great to show flashes, but the Bears need a consistent presence on every down.
That’s where Wootton comes in.
One day at lunch at Olivet Nazarene University, new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker grabbed a seat next to Wootton. Forget the small talk. These two talked about big goals.
“His expectations for himself are as high as they can be,” Tucker said. “He expects to be a special player. And there’s no expectations that we can put on him that will be higher than what he wants for himself. He really wants to be a special player.
“So, this is the time to develop. One day at a time, one rep at a time. And that’s what we’re working to do. And then, we’ll see. Only time will tell, but he’s going to put the work in.”
Wootton’s work is far from finished, and his injury history leaves room for concern. But if he can combine his great expectations with good health, more dances could be in store.
“That’s what I’ve been working toward all offseason,” Wootton said, “is to be a major contributor for this defense.”
The robot has found his power button.