Through the first seven games of the season, Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn played just one down on defense, but in Week 8 against Dallas, the undrafted rookie was on the field for 13 defensive snaps.
Two days after the Cowboys matchup, Roquan Smith was traded to the Ravens, presenting a new opportunity to the team's young linebackers like Sanborn.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams told reporters Thursday that Sanborn will "have a bigger role" in Sunday's game against the Dolphins. Williams credits the rookie's tendencies and efforts in practice, dating back to training camp, for his rise in playing time.
"He plays hard, he plays physical," Williams said. "In terms of the HITS principle, he does hustle, he is intense. So those are the first two steps. Back when he got a chance to play in the preseason, he did turn the football over. So I would say: 'What's there not to like about Sanborn?' He just needs a chance to get on the field and perform."
While Sanborn still has limited NFL experience on defense, his success in the preseason highlighted his potential. In the first preseason game against the Chiefs, Sanborn recorded an interception, a fumble recovery, five tackles and one tackle-for-loss on defense.
Now, the Lake Zurich native and Wisconsin graduate is ready to have that opportunity in the regular season.
"A lot goes into it, but it's definitely an honor right now," Sanborn said. "But with that being said, you've got to do more. You've got to keep improving each day, keep getting better each day and that's where my mind is."
The Bears hit the Halas Hall practice fields Wednesday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.
Sanborn's exact role for Sunday is yet to be determined. While veteran Nicholas Morrow started the first eight games at middle linebacker, Williams is considering both players for the weakside spot that Smith occupied.
No matter where the Bears have Sanborn line up come Sunday, he trusts his readiness for either position. He believes it's "everyone's job to know everything," as they're all in the meeting room "learning the same thing."
"I'm confident in myself," Sanborn said. "I believe I'm a smart player. I understand what the role of the defense is, where I'm supposed to be, doing my job. Then once that's good, try to do some more. So, I'm not going to do anything crazy, I'm going to try to be myself. And I think that goes for all of us. I'm always going to go out there and work, play smart overall to try and get the win."