“It just made my day going out there and running around,” Paea said.
The team likely feels the same, given the depleted state of a defense fighting to produce despite losing three starters to season-ending injuries. Paea participated in “a little running” on Monday and expects to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins after missing two consecutive games due to a turf-toe injury.
In his bid to return from the injury, Paea arrived at the team’s facilities every day at 6:30 a.m. and was often “the last guy getting out,” he said, “just to get this thing right.” What caused the most frustration for Paea is that recovery from a turf-toe injury requires mostly rest to speed the process. Paea maintained his cardiovascular fitness through swimming.
“I feel like it’s gonna pay off coming this Sunday. It felt good today out there. I’m on track to play,” Paea said.
Paea admitted to lobbying to play prior to the last two games, but the medical staff would not grant clearance. With Paea out of the lineup, Chicago’s ailing front four played a role in the defense surrendering 106 yards rushing on Thursday to Brandon Jacobs in the win over the New York Giants. The game prior, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees lit up the Bears for 288 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 120.0.
Although the Bears sacked Brees twice, they didn’t put him under duress nearly enough. The Bears produced only one sack of quarterback Eli Manning on Thursday.
The hope now is with Paea back, paired with Corey Wootton inside, Chicago’s front four will be able to dial up some pressure Sunday when the club faces the Redskins on the road.
“I just think we’ve got to get more continuity in our rushes,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We’re trying to find ways to improve our techniques and fundamentals, and coordinate different ways of getting to the quarterback. The energy’s there. We got a lot closer last week than we did the two previous weeks. We were around him but not enough. We’ve just got to continue working it.”
Paea agreed, citing the musical-chairs situation -- induced by injuries along the front four -- as the main contributor to the Bears' lacking the required chemistry to generate a consistent rush.
With defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins out for the season with torn ACLs, the Bears have turned to unheralded players such as Landon Cohen, David Bass and Zach Minter to contribute as key cogs in the defensive-line rotation. Their lack of chemistry with established veterans such as defensive end Julius Peppers prevent them from recognizing some of the nonverbal cues utilized by the front four to ratchet up production.
“Last week, we had David Bass coming in,” Paea said. “We had Zach Minter. It was those guys playing with Peppers in there -- Peppers looking over there giving signals, like something he always does to me or Melton. Those guys don’t even know. [They’re like], ‘What is that?’ [It could be] like a signal [where Peppers is saying], ‘I’m coming in, and you’re coming out. I do this, you do that.’ So when we get that chemistry down and people have that trust, [we’ll] feel comfortable in there. It’s getting there, but we have new guys coming in. It’s like having new classmates every day.”
For the group to graduate to consistency, however, Paea knows he must assume somewhat of a role as a bell cow for the front. Wootton needs to, as well.
“I’ve got to step up. That’s the bottom line,” Paea said. “Just go out there, have some swag and get comfortable. With Nate and Henry down, it’s unfortunate for them. I look around, and on the inside it’s just me and Corey right now. We’ve got to step up. If we have to play all the snaps in there, that’s what we’ll do.”
Is there pressure to do that? Paea doesn’t think so. Paea said he felt pressure in 2012 because it marked his first season as a starter. Now, the veteran can’t afford to look beyond what’s right in front of him.
“Now, it’s just read your keys, play fast and everything starts slowing down. When you start thinking about what pressure comes in to you, leadership, you’re the man now, things like that, that’s when you start to get comfortable in your position. That’s when you don’t do your job. When you don’t do your job, you don’t get to play for the Bears.”