BOURBONNAIS, Ill -- Because of all the attention lavished on first-round draft choice Shea McClellin in the aftermath of the Bears' first padded practice, third-year defensive end Corey Wootton's on-field performance flew under the radar. But make no mistake about it, the Bears would love to see Wootton emerge as a consistent and reliable presence in their rotation at defensive end after he was limited to 13 games the past two seasons.
"A lot of people are doubting my abilities and if I can come back," Wootton said. "I'm trying to show them the player I can be and everyday that's what I'm trying to prove."
A dominant pass rusher his junior year at Northwestern to the tune of 10 sacks, Wootton suffered a serious knee injury during the 2008 Alamo Bowl. Wootton returned to the field the next fall for the Wildcats but continued to battle knee issues. That didn't stop the Bears from taking Wootton in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft even though his knee was still not 100 percent when he reported to training camp as a rookie. Wootton showed up to camp last summer healthy, but got hurt again on the opening kickoff of the club's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. Wootton dressed for just seven games last season and so far has only 13 tackles and one sack to show for his time spent in the NFL.
Wootton tried to strengthen his knee in the offseason by doing a variety of work which included weight training four to five times per week and speed and agility drills at least three times a week. The goal was to improve his quickness getting off the line of scrimmage once the ball is snapped. The training camp appeared to pay off, at least on Saturday night, when Wootton routinely got around offensive tackles during one-on-one pass rushing drills.
But nothing is expected to be handed to Wootton. After a pair of quiet seasons, he now finds himself in direct competition with McClellin, veteran Chauncey Davis and Thaddeus Gibson for a spot on the team's game day defensive end rotation, behind starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
"I feel good, I feel like I definitely have my burst back," Wootton said. "Last season was tough for me coming of out training camp feeling good then unfortunately the knee injury slowed me down and I didn't get that burst back that I had in training camp. I feel like I have it back."