Last week, after nine seasons in the NFL with Chicago, Brandon’s Israel Idonije traded in his Bears jersey for Lions colours after inking a one-year deal with Detroit.
"It’s a new environment, but we’re still playing football," Idonije said via telephone yesterday. "I’m excited and I’m going to go in there and do what I’ve always done and that’s work hard and do my job."
Last season, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive end was second on the Bears with 7.5 sacks, trailing only Julius Peppers’ 11.5 sacks. He also racked up 48 tackles and one forced fumble in 16 games and Idonije said he expects to bring that same tenacious pass-rushing presence to the Lions, but also knows he’ll have to plug holes on the ground in order to see more snaps.
"My role is first and foremost to stop the run, because without doing that you’re not going to win football games, then it’s rush the passer and rush him effectively," he said.
The graduate of Brandon’s Vincent Massey Vikings high school football program generated interest from several NFL teams in the off-season, but decided to stay in the tough NFC North due to familiarity.
"It’s a big part of why Detroit was such a great fit because I’ll play six games out of the year — I’m going to play the Vikings, the Packers, the Bears — against teams that I’m very familiar with," he said. "Teams where I know the guys and I have in-depth game plans on those teams."
In Detroit, Idonije is expected to play in an aggressive "Wide 9" defensive scheme that was brought to the team when Jim Schwartz took over as head coach and is designed to get the defensive line up the field to rush the passer.
The 32-year-old Idonije stays in a division that had two of the most sacked quarterbacks in the entire league in 2012 — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (51) and former Chicago teammate Jay Cutler (38).
"I know who I am as a player and as a person and I’m just going to go in and do what I’ve always done and work hard and conduct myself as a professional," Idonije said.
Detroit finished 27th in the league in team defence last season, giving up 27.3 points per game. But with players like Ndamukong Suh, Jason Jones, Nick Fairley and rookie Ezekiel Ansah, Idonije believes the Lions are trending up.
"It is a great fit and when you look at Detroit as a whole and the talent pool they have on the team, they are a team that you cannot take lightly and I look forward to being a part of an exciting season with those guys," Idonije said. "I’m going to go there and trust in the guy beside me and I want them to know that they can trust me to do my job and hold down my position."
The 2013 season will mark Idonije’s 10th year in the NFL and while he said the time has flown by, he was unlikely at best to carve out such a successful career.
Passed over in the NFL draft, Idonije was drafted 17th overall by the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades of the CFL in 2003. That year, the then raw Idonije wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine workouts, but chose to appear anyway, handing out homemade tapes of his highlights from his days with the University of Manitoba Bisons. Nine scouts showed interest, but only one from the Cleveland Browns travelled to Winnipeg to watch him work out.
The Browns eventually signed Idonije to their practice roster, only to release him partway through the 2003 season when the Bears grabbed him. The following year he made the Bears’ roster and hasn’t looked back, playing in 134 career games over nine seasons, picking up 28.5 sacks and notching 271 tackles.
"At the beginning there were as a lot of doubters and at the end of the day those people and those views served as fuel to continue working and for me the journey has been amazing," Idonije said. "To play 10 years, I’m extremely thankful and to parlay that into a successful off-the-field career in the charity work we do, I count myself very fortunate."
Idonije said he doesn’t get back to Brandon much anymore, with his family now living in Winnipeg.
This summer, Idonije said he’ll stay busy, choosing to only take about 10 days off before started the necessary work to prepare for his first Lions training camp. He also spends a great deal of time working with the Israel Idonije Foundation.
"It’s doing what I’ve done over the past 10 years — work hard, do the right things and live the right way and let everything else work itself out," Idonije said.