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This series of Five Questions With... will focus on not only the 2015 draft class for the Chicago Bears, but some of the undrafted free agents as well. This series of articles has become one of my favorites to do here at Windy City Gridiron, as I feel it gives us an added insight to the new players on the Bears.
This time out we're talking with Melissa Triebwasser, who helped us out last week with our Q&A about Tayo Fabuluje. Melissa is the Associate Editor of Frogs O' War, the SB Nation site that covers the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, and she spoke to us about a Chicago undrafted free agent, linebacker Jonathan Anderson.
Windy City Gridiron - Anderson was a highly regarded safety coming out of high school, did he immediately make the transition to linebacker at TCU or did he begin his career at safety?
Frogs O' War - Anderson burst on to the scene as a redshirt freshman against BYU at Cowboy's Stadium in 2011, racking up 17 tackles and pulling down a game sealing interception as a safety. We all thought at that point we had found the next great secondary player, and expected big things from him in the defensive backfield from then on out. He cooled off significantly from that point, though he still ended up with 49 tackles on the season, the most for a Horned Frog freshman since 2006. As a sophomore in 2012, he had a hard time getting on the field, as the Frogs had good veterans in front of him, and he got caught in a bit of a log jam at safety.
Before his junior year, he made the switch to linebacker - the linebacker position was thin for TCU as the Frogs went in to Big 12 play - and he ended up starting 10 games there that year, finishing with 66 tackles. The transition wasn't immediately smooth, but he was able to get stronger and learn the playbook over the spring. He was relegated to a rotational player during his senior year, as the Frogs were blessed with the two most dynamic LB's Gary Patterson has had in a while in Paul Dawson (drafted by the Bengals in the third round) and Marcus Mallet (100 tackles on the season). Anderson has always had the physical tools to be great, but never seemed to quite put it all together for a full season.
WCG - Being a former safety, I would imagine he was solid in coverage, is that a safe assumption?
FOW - He's more than adequate, but there's a reason he didn't stick at safety. He has the athleticism and speed to stay with receivers, and is strong enough to bother tight ends and running backs. He's one of those guys that looks the part, and he's a really intelligent kid and football player. But he hasn't shown the consistency needed for him to stay on the field every down of every game. That being said, he understands routes and is good at staying with receivers in coverage, and doesn't bite on moves or fakes very often.
He certainly has the tools to be a solid coverage linebacker, and from that game against BYU his freshman year, we know he can disrupt plays and lay the wood on opponents, too. You aren't going to make him look silly very often, but he doesn't make the big/spectacular play quite as often as you would like, when you look at his testing numbers on paper.
WCG - After making 10 starts with 66 tackles in 2013, his production dropped in 2014, down to just 2 starts and 30 tackles. What was the reason for the reduction in playing time?
FOW - I touched on that in question one, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that he got beat out by two really special players in Dawson and Mallet. Dawson was considered by some to be the best linebacker in the draft, and Mallet was incredibly productive in Patterson's defense. Anderson was projected to hold on to the starting MLB spot heading in to the season, with Dawson and Mallet duking it out for the strong side job. Dawson surprised everybody in fall camp with his level of play - especially when you consider how little experience he had on defense to that point - leaving Anderson and Mallet in a battle. 66 tackles was a nice season, but compared to the triple digit efforts put forth by the guys in front of him, it just wasn't enough to beat them out.
WCG - At his pro day he checked in at 6'1", 231 pounds -- after being listed at 6'3", 227 at TCU -- and his straight line speed was an impressive 4.57 in the 40. At 6'1", he's probably too short to play OLB in Chicago's 3-4 defense, so did he have much experience at inside linebacker in college? How about special teams experience?
FOW - He started his linebacker journey at the middle linebacker position, so he technically does have experience inside. TCU runs a 4-2-5 defense, with only two linebackers, so his inside experience is a little less traditional. I think he can transition smoothly in to a 4-3 defense, and that he is a heady and athletic enough player to be productive as an inside backer in the NFL. I can't give you much on his special teams experience - other than to say Patterson has never shied away from putting his best players out there on coverage and return teams, and for a young guy to get on the field early, as he did, he must have done his job on those units. I do believe he played ST this year as well, and would expect with his athletic ability and football IQ, would have a chance to make his mark and stake his claim for a roster part by contributing there first.
WCG - Bottom line, do you think Anderson has what it takes to make an NFL roster or practice squad?
FOW - Anderson has everything on paper that you look for in an NFL player - he has enough size, good speed, and a high football IQ. He doesn't shy away from contact, and can run with receivers in coverage when needed. The thing he is lacking is what we were waiting to see from him at TCU - and that's a season's worth of highly productive play. If he can get locked in, he definitely has a chance to make the team, and contribute. And I like to think he will do that. I see him as a practice squad guy this year - but one of those you try and hide how well he's doing so he doesn't get poached by another team. Maybe late in the year or early next, he makes the team by being a hard hitter on special teams. From there, I think his ceiling is probably as a rotation player who flashes brilliance once in a while, but never quite gets the consistency needed to be a long term starter in the league.
Thanks to Melissa Triebwasser of Frogs O' War for helping us out again!