Matt Toeaina played in all 16 games last season for the first time in his NFL career and is presently listed on the Bears depth chart as a co-starter at both defensive tackle positions.
But the 6-2, 308-pounder hasn’t always been a key contributor.
Prior to emerging in 2010, Toeaina was inactive for 30 of 32 games the previous two seasons with the Bears. Having to wait so long for his opportunity continues to motivate the 26-year-old.
“That’s one thing about this business,” Toeaina said Tuesday at training camp. “You can’t get comfortable because there are always guys waiting to take your spot. In camp there’s a lot of competition, so for me to take it easy or to get complacent just won’t do.”
The battle for playing time hasn’t kept Toeaina from taking rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea under his wing. Toeaina called Paea to congratulate him shortly after the Bears selected him in the second round of the draft and picked him up from the airport before training camp. The two players, who are both of Polynesian descent, also worked out together during the offseason.
Asked what he’s seen of Paea in camp, Toeaina said: “I’ve seen a very hungry kid. He’s definitely progressing as a rookie should and maybe faster than what most guys expect, and we’re expecting a lot out of him this year.”
Toeaina shares a special bond with Paea, but the veteran tries to help all of his young teammates.
"He gets a little extra love because we're from the same Polynesian descent," Toeaina said with a smile. "[But] me being one of the older guys—it’s kind of weird for me to say that—it just comes with the territory. What I've gained is not for me to keep. I've got to share with the rest of the other guys."