Back on track;Anderson finding niche with Pats and more here

Mark Anderson’s inaugural NFL season was one big highlight
film.

Drafted by the Bears in the fifth round in 2006, the lanky
defensive end played in all 16 games, piled up 12 sacks – tied for
the fourth-highest total in league history for a rookie – and
finished second in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the
Year.

Even better, that individual success translated to team
triumphs. The Bears went 13-3 and won the NFC Championship before
losing to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.

It was, Anderson assumed, the start of something very good.

“After my first year I figured it was easy, something you do all
the time,” he said yesterday inside the
Patriots’ bustling locker room
following practice, their first since capturing the AFC
Championship Sunday.

“But as you can see, it took me five years to get here again.
I’m just trying to take advantage of it and make the most of every
opportunity.”

An appreciative Anderson and the
Patriots will meet the Giants in
Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It’s been a long time coming for both parties.

Anderson was cut by the Bears early in the 2010 season and
hooked on with the Texans, who let him go after the season ended.
The veteran free agent languished on the open market until the
Patriots signed him Aug. 5, about a
week after the start of training camp.

“I still remember that whole process, the waiting,” Anderson
said. “I was getting a little frustrated and stuff, but I said a
prayer, and the first team that called me was New England. I knew
it was a sign from God, and I took the opportunity and made sure I
made the best of it.”

The lack of interest in Anderson was primarily a result of the
lack of success in his supposed area of expertise. After that
ridiculous rookie year, the pass-rushing specialist recorded 13.5
sacks in his next 61 games.

Anderson signed here for one year and $1.375 million. Suffice to
say, the
Patriots have gotten their money’s
worth from a player who stands to cash in this offseason.

Anderson tied Andre Carter for the team lead with 10 sacks and
was second with 14 quarterback hits during the regular season.

He appeared in all 16 games and displayed some newfound
versatility while being utilized at end and outside linebacker
depending on the formation.

“I still have a lot of stuff I want to work on that I can help
the team with, but mainly every opportunity I get I just try to go
out there and bring a lot of energy and just try to give it my
all,” Anderson said. “We have a big game coming up – it’ll be one
of the biggest games of my career and I’m ready to prove to the
world and prove to everybody we’re ready for this game.”

Anderson has really come up large since Carter suffered a
season-ending injury against the Broncos in Week 15. He’s got five
sacks in the last five games while seeing a dramatic increase in
playing time.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Anderson has never been considered stout
enough to set the edge again the run, but he’s morphed into an
every-down player in the last month.

In the
Patriots’ two playoff victories,
he’s been on the field for 142 out of a possible 144 defensive
snaps while collecting five tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits
and a pass defensed.

“I really don’t listen to any outside voices,” the easy-going
Anderson said.” I just go out there and try to do my best. Setting
the edge, playing the run – that’s all a mentality and right now my
mentality is to get out there and just be disruptive when I’m on
the field.

“Like I said, it’s a lot of hard work to get to this stage and
you have to make sure you take advantage of every opportunity you
get.”

Anderson

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