BOURBONNAIS — Ever wonder about what type of banter occurs immediately before a training camp practice scuffle ensues?
Fortunately, reserve defensive end Austen Lane was nice enough to clue us in, as he and sixth offensive lineman Eben Britton engaged in one of Monday’s two post-play shoving matches, albeit the undercard (defensive end Cornelius Washington and offensive tackle Joe Long squared off in the feature bout).
See, Lane and Britton were formerly teammates in Jacksonville – Lane a 2010 fifth-rounder, Britton a second-round pick one year earlier – and they know what makes the other one tick. But would you believe if we told you tempers flared due to a disagreement over fictional books?
“We’re in the huddle, whatever, and he started talking to me about how Divergent is the better book series,” Lane quipped after practice. “And I said, ‘no you’re stupid, Twilight is better.’ And that went back and forth … and then by the third play, I had to stand up for Twilight, man. And I stood my ground and we got in a little scrapple. But that happens when you talk about book series.”
Working with the fourth-string defense, Lane is in the fight of his life to secure a roster spot with the Bears. He signed with the club in January, only to watch Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Trevor Scott, among others, land in Chicago after him. Yet, one of the Bears' more colorful personalities and articulate talkers, he should have plenty of options once his football career is over.
He hopes that isn’t anytime soon, but the long-limbed, 26-year-old edge setter understands what he is up against.
“I’ve honestly never been on a defensive line where I think everybody top to bottom can play in this league,” Lane said. Being able to watch proven veterans like Allen – “he’s basically like the Chuck Norris of the NFL,” Lane said, “dude can do whatever he wants” – Houston and Jeremiah Ratliff has helped Lane, but his greatest asset since arriving in Chicago, he revealed, has been strength assistant Joe Kim.
“Teaching me hands, teaching me footwork, those things are huge in pass rush,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has been equally impressed by the effect Kim is having on the unit his offense battles in practice every day.
“What he’s done is he’s training those guys constantly,” said Kromer, “not on who they have or what gap they’re hitting; he’s constantly working on their hands, and how to defeat blocks, so you can see it showing up.”
Lane, an Evanston, Ill. native, is buried on the depth chart, but he remains grateful for the camaraderie in the defensive linemen room.
"Top to bottom, we all have each other's back, and that's what is going to make for a great defensive line," he said.
Lane's goal over the next several weeks is to prove he can be a reliable depth piece on what should be a much-improved line. There is no question he can elicit a good laugh, but it remains to be seen if he can find other ways to stand out in a crowded competition.
- Arthur Arkush