LAKE FOREST – Any frustration that James Brown could have experienced last season would be perfectly understandable.
But that's not how the third-year Bears offensive tackle looks at it.
After competing for the starting right guard spot in training camp before making the 53-man roster, Brown never appeared in a game, forcing him to take in the entire season from the sidelines. Considering the way his NFL career has progressed – from being an undrafted free agent out of Troy to being a practice squad player and finally an emergency starter for the final three games in 2012 – establishing any continuity with the Bears hasn't been easy.
But ask the 306-pound reserve and former Mississippi state weightlifting champion if he ever tires of not having a defined role outside of being a lineman asked to be constantly at the ready and Brown insists it's not his style to complain.
"You don't think about it," Brown said matter-of-factly this week. "It's all about the team. Guys that are selfish think about themselves. You've just got to think about the team. Wherever I can fit in and help the team out, that's what I'm going to be about."
Maintaining such a selfless attitude over the course of an entire season seems difficult. But rather than focusing on how much he's not playing – especially after finishing 2012 as a starter, albeit because of injuries – Brown insists he is fine carrying out the role the Bears have asked him to play.
Brown positioned himself heading into training camp last season as the possible starting right guard before quickly being beat out for the position by Kyle Long. He spent the season locked into the two-deep depth chart all year, listed behind Long and Matt Slauson both guard spots.
A year after his persistence on the practice squad and patience paid off, though, Brown never saw the field in 2013. Despite that, he spent the season sharpening his technique, believing that if he worked hard enough, it could pay off in the future. But as he worked for the future, he found ways to prepare for the present, having learned from his 2012 season that an injury could suddenly propel him into the starting lineup.
Over 16 games last year, Brown's attitude never wavered. Despite never being in a position to show in game situations how much he had improved, Brown tried to pick things up from the sidelines that he could implement in practice the next week. By doing so, he figured, his coaches would trust him enough to throw him into action if need be.
"Being a backup, you've got to go into the game thinking that you're going to play – no matter what," Brown said. "Then, if you don't get called up, it is what it is."
Brown's demeanor won't change heading into another season when his role, for the most part, seems uncertain. He has shifted from guard to tackle and will work for playing time as a swing tackle along with seventh-round rookie Charles Leno Jr., Michael Ola and Joe Long, among others. There are subtle changes, but the blocking schemes remain the same as they would be at guard, allowing Brown to continue to shore up his technique.
He is constantly picking the brain of teammate and starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who has encouraged Brown to keep focused on improvement and not to be sidetracked by what at times can be a numbers game that can become hard to ignore.
For now, Brown won't allow himself to become consumed by again making the Bears regular season roster or with how much he will play – if at all – if he's there when the season begins. He will instead continue to push himself as hard as he can in practice, knowing there is only so much he can control at the end of the day.
"I'm just trying to play," Brown said. "You go through practice and anything can happen. You just need to be ready. I've never been a selfish type player because I've got a great role no matter what and if you're not needed here, they'll send you home."