LAKE FOREST – Stephen Paea lingered on the field with Corey Wootton for about 10 minutes after the conclusion of Monday’s practice at Halas Hall.
As Wootton listened, Paea spoke and gestured forcefully with his hands.
Good hands, Paea said, were the secret to success on the interior of the defensive line. A glut of injuries recently had prompted the Bears to switch Wootton’s position from defensive end to defensive tackle, and Paea was eager to help his teammate with a crash course on the new role.
“Inside, the collision gets quicker than outside defensive end,” Paea said. “Outside, you’ve got more room to play with. …
“Everything you’ve got to do is quick. It’s not like [you take] three steps, then you make a move. You do that at the line of scrimmage, some guys will jump and hit you in the mouth. And some, they go back.
“It’s just all about repetitions.”
Paea, 25, has missed the past two games for the Bears because of turf toe, which sounds funny but feels anything but. He ran during a light practice Monday in hopes of returning Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
The Bears could use him, particularly after allowing New York Giants has-been Brandon Jacobs to romp for 106 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6. In Paea’s absence, the Bears’ defensive line has included Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside along with Wootton and Landon Cohen on the inside.
“He worked out here today, so we’re optimistic,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’ll have the rest of the day off and [Tuesday off] and be ready to go.”
Not since last month in Detroit has Paea been ready to go.
The time in between has proved to be challenging for the 300-pound Tongan.
“First of all, it’s boring,” Paea said. “But at the same time, I can’t help my team [on the field], but I’m on the sidelines sponsoring the younger guys and trying to help them out.”
Paea also has filled the downtime on the sidelines by taking copious notes.
“I was trying to write the plays down, trying to write the reps the younger guys were getting,” Paea said. “So, trying to be like a coach out there.”
Paea’s younger teammates appreciate his coach-like qualities. Rookie defensive tackle Zach Minter might have been an undrafted nobody to many Bears fans during training camp this summer, but Paea treated him like a somebody.
“When I first got here, he was one of the first people to really start to coach me, like a player taking a guy under his wing,” said Minter, who played at Montana State. “It was kind of cool to have that happen to me through Stephen.”
No wonder Minter could see Paea becoming a successful coach some day.
“Stephen definitely could be a coach,” Minter said. “He knows a lot about the game, knows a lot about the D-line, and how plays work and how offenses run.”
Every shred of evidence seemed to support Minter’s belief.
How many 25-year-old players in the NFL make it a point to mentor undrafted rookies? How many stay after practice to work with veterans changing positions? And how many injured starters spend their game days logging play calls and snap counts while offering advice from the sideline?
Yet Paea has his doubts.
“I don’t know about coaching,” Paea said.
It’s a subject Paea has spoken about with Michael Sinclair, the Bears’ assistant defensive line coach.
Sinclair was a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end who registered 73½ sacks in his 11-year career, and he and Paea discussed the challenges of former players-turned-coaches expecting younger players to achieve the same level of success as they did.
To be honest, Paea said, that might drive him crazy.
“Yeah,” Paea said with a smile. “That’s why I’ve got to ball out and get out of football and spend time with the family.”
Play now. Coach now. Rest later.