Joel Iyiegbuniwe feels like a different player than the one that came to Chicago two years ago.
Iyiegbuniwe was the team's fourth selection in the loaded 2018 draft, which also produced linebacker Roquan Smith, guard James Daniels, defensive lineman Bilal Nichols and receivers Anthony Miller and Javon Wims.
In his first two seasons, Iyiegbuniwe established himself as a mainstay on special teams while finding himself buried under a deep group of inside linebackers. However, the offseason saw the departure of backups Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, which may open the way for more playing time for Iyiegbuniwe.
Iyiegbuniwe feels up to the challenge.
"I'd definitely say I'm a different player," said Iyiegbuniewe. "I definitely took this offseason to study, to look at my game all around, and just work on my overall game, areas that I needed to improve on. I'm really excited, man. I know I seem chill right now, but once that shot comes, I'm going to be ready."
Iyiegbuniwe identified route recognition and run support as two areas where the coaching staff asked him to focus. He feels that one of the biggest drivers of improvement has been exposure to the professional game's speed.
"The more you're in the league, the slower the game gets," said Iyiegbuniwe. "Year 3 for me, honestly, the game is slow as it's ever been in my career: high school, college. I feel like I'm really hitting my stride now as far as football IQ."
Since being drafted, Iyiegbuniwe has worked to understand football at a deeper level rather than relying on his athleticism.
"I feel like, as far as athletic ability and things like that, I've been blessed," said Iyiegbuniwe, "but that football IQ, man, just getting the playbook, knowing what's coming from the offense, understanding the formation, tendencies and things like that, that's what I was trying to get."
Beyond workouts, it has been an interesting offseason for Iyiegbuniwe, who might be the Bears player most likely to be asked to weigh in on a public health emergency.
Iyiegbuniwe graduated from Western Kentucky with a degree in biology. He has spoken in the past about his desire to go to medical school after his playing career is over. His father serves as the Director of Public Health at California State University San Marcos, and his mother is a nurse.
In the offseason, Iyiegbuniwe shot a PSA warning about the effects of COVID-19.
"I think with COVID, a lot of people aren't taking it serious," said Iyiegbuniwe, "and it's a shame that that's what it is. But yeah, there's not much you can't do when people aren't listening. But the people that do listen, it's our job to just relay that message: 'Wear your mask. Don't party.'"
Iyiegbuniwe credits the Bears organization for understanding the situation and acting accordingly.
"I think our team does a great job with that," said Iyiegbuniwe. "No one is out here doing anything reckless, but the general public, there's only so much you can do. If someone wants to listen, they'll listen. If they don't, well, that's it."