I noticed something the other day that made me think. You hear so much about respect within the locker room and the earning of it, but you don't always hear how one actually *earns *it.
On the sidelines a few days ago, Bear Woods was interacting with the other linebackers like he belonged. As a member of the practice squad last season after joining the team as an undrafted free agent last year, the linebacker from Troy has every right to feel that way.
But feeling like you deserve it and actually deserving to be a member of the team are two different things. I also don't mean to imply some of the other young players aren't accepted by their teammates. They are. Embraced in fact.
No, the interaction with Bear and guys like Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson was different. It was clear he earned his way into the exclusive linebackers club.
I asked Woods about it Wednesday morning and he said he absolutely had to play his way in.
"I think last year they knew the role I was in," Woods said. "It was kind of do or die for me going into that last preseason game in Jacksonville. I went out there and played some ball."
What Bear did in that game is the definition of playing ball. He lead the team with five tackles and included a sack. While he didn't make the active roster, he was brought to the practice squad late last season and that meant he was part of the fraternity. And that's the answer to the respect question.
"That's how you earn respect, you go out there and you play football," he said. "That's what I did. When I got back everyone treated me just like a teammate again. It's been great."
But it's a new year and while he turned some heads last year there are a new crop of guys in camp this year that want to make a name for themselves just as Bear Woods did last year. The 24-year-old linebacker knows the game coming on Friday begins a critical stretch of putting practice into action on the field.
"Guys like myself, this is our season," he said. "We're competing to make a spot on the team. This is a great opportunity. I'm excited and trying to learn a lot and go out there and compete."
There's a lot of talk about continuity everywhere on this team and it's no different for Woods. He feels a year in the system has helped him move freely around the football field. A year under his belt helped him make the most of the reps he gets during practice.
"Just knowing the terminology and the language of the defense has helped me a lot," he said. "I still get a lot of mental reps. When he's my turn I need to be ready and correct when I get out there."
Woods is kind of a fan favorite, a cult-like figure in camp that is as easy to talk to as he is easy to root for. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a lot cheering for No. 45 on Friday night.