Ready for Prime Time
Through the first four games of the NFL season, Bear defensive tackle Jim Flanigan must have been wondering: What's a guy gotta do to break into the starting lineup?
In the Bears' opening 31-14 victory over Minnesota, Flanigan, alternating with Chris Zorich and Carl Simpson, had two sacks and four tackles. "All that he isn't getting is to be announced as a starter before the games, and, to be fair, he'll get that if he keeps playing as he has," coach Dave Wannstedt said afterward.
In Week 2, a 27-24 loss to Green Bay, Flanigan, a Sturgeon Bay, Wis., native whose father, Jim, played linebacker for the Packers from 1967 to '70, was again impressive, with three tackles and another sack. The second-year pro out of Notre Dame also caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Bear quarterback Erik Kramer. ( Flanigan is the Bears' fullback in goal line situations but almost always is used as a blocker.) "Jim played well again, and he deserves a start," said Wannstedt.
But, alas, in the next two games, against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, Flanigan was on the bench for the first snap. If Flanigan, who was called Flantastic and Flaninator by his Notre Dame teammates, was flabbergasted, he didn't let on. He totaled five tackles and 2� sacks in the two games and received as much playing time as Zorich and Simpson.
"He's rushing the quarterback as well as anybody," says defensive line coach Clarence Brooks. "By playing very strong, solid run defense, he's becoming a better pass rusher."
And finally—drumroll, please—this long-awaited news out of Chicago: Flanigan is expected to start against Carolina on Sunday. Promise. Coach's honor. Wannstedt said he will decide who will be demoted at the end of the week of practice.
Flanigan, not the flamboyant type, is taking the promotion in stride. "It was easy to get jacked up for the first couple of games," he says. "It was the Vikings and Packers, and it was my first major playing time. Now I want to keep it going. I have to keep the mental edge."