Toeaina, Reed, Paea: Ex-Ducks, former Beaver are all Bears now
LAKE FOREST, Ill. - The Chicago Bears have 10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster for Sunday's season opener against Atlanta at Soldier Field.
Three of them are very familiar to state-of-Oregon fans.
There is Stephen Paea, the rookie tackle out of Oregon State.
And Matt Toeaina, a fifth-year tackle from Oregon.
And Nick Reed, another former Duck who made the team as a free agent end.
All are reserves on the Chicago D-line. Toeaina is second string at nose tackle, with Paea listed behind him. Reed is the No. 3 left D-end.
Reed and Paea locker next to each other at the Bears' training facility in suburban Lake Forest. Toeaina is just beyond spitting distance. They've all become acquainted during their first preseason together, and there seems no animosity between Paea and the two ex-Ducks despite their alma maters.
'There's a little bit of kidding, but they're good guys,' Paea said Wednesday of Reed and Toeaina. 'We all get along.'
'Stephen can't say nothing, because we beat them the past couple of years, and they lost to Sacramento State,' Toeaina cracked with a smile.
'One thing we agree on is how the weather is during fall camp here as compared to Oregon,' he added. 'It's like a gift compared to the ups and downs and the humidity we get in the Midwest.'
Paea was in Corvallis on a three-day break from the Bears, and received a standing ovation by the Reser Stadium crowd when introduced between the first and second quarters of the Beavers' 29-28 overtime loss to Sac State last Saturday.
'That was special,' Paea said. 'I was honored to go back and support the team, even though the outcome wasn't what we wanted.'
The 6-1, 300-pound Paea - a first-team All-American and two-time Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-10's top D-lineman - was a second-round draft pick of the Bears. The native Tongan, who moved to the U.S. at age 16 and played only two years of high school football, knew he wouldn't step in immediately as a starter on a veteran defense for the team that made it to the NFC championship game last season.
'It's what I expected,' Paea said. 'It's going to be tough as far as getting on the field. I'm on the third string and have to work my way up. But what's happening now is going to pay off in the future.'
Paea played in all four exhibitions, getting the most action in the finale against Cleveland.
'I was out there for 40 to 50 snaps,' Paea said. 'In the NFL, everyone is fast. In college, there are a couple of guys leading the pack. In the NFL, everyone is on time. Ahead of time, really.'
Paea has played both nose and the 'three technique' tackle in the Bears' 4-3 defense.
'The positions are way different,' he said. At the 3-tackle, 'You have to get off (a block) and cause havoc in the backfield. At nose tackle, you shoot with your hands and you have to be disciplined. You don't have to be in the backfield all the time. You can't control the center and look for the ball. If you get blown back, the gap's going to be wide open.'
Paea, wife Susanna and their 11-month old daughter, Leimana, are living in a condo in Vernon Hills, Ill., five minutes from the Bears' training facility. His family - including his mother, Ana, and his siblings - visit regularly from northern California.
'Everything's been great so far,' Paea said. 'I want to stay healthy and learn the speed and timing of the pro game. If they give me a role this year, fine. But next year, I'll be even more ready.'
Toeaina, who turns 27 next month, was drafted in the sixth round by Cincinnati in 2007 after starting two years for the Ducks. He played on the Bengals' practice squad that season, then was signed by Chicago in 2008.
The 6-2, 310-pound native of American Samoa played sparingly his first two seasons but became a key reserve last season, earning a new three-year contract that begins this fall.
'It was hard,' Toeaiana said. 'Those two years, I only had a handful snaps to show for all the work I put in during the offseason.
'I had a good year last year, and I'll build on that. This is a new year. I have new goals.'
Including joining Chicago's starting lineup at some point?
'You don't practice to be second-best,' he said. 'You want to be the starter. But at the end of the day, it's about getting the job done, no matter who's in there.'
Like Paea, Toeaina is capable of playing both tackle positions.
'Being able to play both helps the team out,' he said. 'I have the versatility, just in case somebody goes down.'
After a sensational career at Oregon - he is the school record-holder for sacks (29 1/2) and tackles behind the line of scrimmage (51 1/2) and led nation with five fumble recoveries as a senior in 2008 - Reed was a seventh-round pick by Seattle despite being decidedly undersized at 6-1 and 250.
He made the team, though, and experienced a moment of glory as a rookie when he returned a fumble 79 yards for touchdown against Jacksonville.
But Reed tore the medial meniscus in his right knee during the 2010 preseason. In September, he reached an injury settlement with the Seahawks and was released.
'They were saying I'd be back in 2-4 weeks, but it was more like 8-10 weeks to get it rehabbed,' said Reed. 'By week eight I was good to go. I worked out for about 10 different teams, but nobody took me.'
In January, the Bears signed him to a contract and, despite his size, Reed made the club after a solid preseason.
'A lot of people look at me walking around and think, 'Defensive end?' ' Reed sad. 'But the eye test isn't the final word.'
Reed had connections with Chicago. Tim Ruskell, the Bears' director of player personnel, served the same position in Seattle when Reed was drafted. Bears D-line coach Mike Phair was the Seahawks' assistant D-line coach during Reed's time there.
'I learned some stuff about the team, and I liked what I heard,' Reed said, of the Bears. 'It wasn't a hard decision to make. They had a really good year last year, so it was where I was looking to go. '
Reed has enjoyed the reunion with Toeaina, with whom he played his first two years at Oregon.
'When I was young at Oregon, some of the older guys liked to haze freshmen, or at least not be friendly,' Reed said. 'Matt was always a guy who was friendly to me, open and honest. I remember hanging out at his house - they had a big house. He was always really cool to me. Same guy when I got here.'
Reed had never met Paea until he arrived in training camp.
'I knew about him from playing against him,' Reed said. 'I'd heard (Oregon's) O-line talk about him, so I had respect for the way he played. He hasn't disappointed me.'
Toeaina likes Paea's potential.
'He's good,' Toeaina said. 'We're deep right now, but he'll get his shot. Once he gets the fundamentals that our defense requires, he'll be one hell of a player.'
The three teammates share a healthy optimism going into the season.
'I see no reason why we can't be better than they were last year,' Reed said.
'I'm thinking Super Bowl, with all the talent and the guys we have back,' Paea said. 'That's why I'm not complaining about third string. The guys in front of me are some of the best guys in the league.'
'Our standards are high,' Toeaina said. 'We'll have to see, once we start playing. We'll have a better feel for how we gel with the lack of offseason we had. But the pieces are in place.'