An older Jerrell Freeman tries to become a leader on a young Bears defense

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Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman takes part in a drill during Bears training camp in Bourbonnais on July 30th.

BOURBONNAIS – When it comes to thinking of an NFL player’s age, league experience can be a little deceiving at times

A majority of the players in professional football come straight from college at 21 or 22 years old. On occasion, however, an athlete has a detour before making their way to the league.

Jerrell Freeman is one of those.

He’s been in the NFL for four years but this will be his first NFL season in his 30s, turning three decades old back on May 1st.

Not that Freeman is paying attention to is as he opens a new era of his career with the Bears this summer.

“I still feel like I’m 21,” said Freeman with a smile on his face during the first week of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. “If you see me out there running around, I still look like a kid out there. I’m loving every minute of it.”

That’s the attitude of someone who had to wait four years after college to finally break through in the NFL. A three-year stay in the CFL led to a tryout with the Colts in 2012 where he seized the starting linebacker spot and held it the next four years.

While Freeman preaches his youth of heart after signing a deal with the Bears this offseason, he would hope that some of his new teammates might actually view him for his real age. As the man in the middle, leadership is something he hopes to earn both in play and with his words.

After all, he’s wearing No. 50 for the Bears. But exactly how does he go about becoming an influence on and off the field?

“I think it’s a trust factor, that you know what you are doing and what you are talking about,” said Freeman of getting to know and earn the respect of teammates. “As a linebacker you’ve got a lot of responsibility, guys look to you for certain calls.”

Do they look up to him as a leader already?

Freeman did get a three-year, $12 million contract with a $1.5 signing bonus in March which has many on the outside looking at him as one of the guys to usher in a more aggressive Bears 3-4 defense under Vic Fangio.

“You would have to talk to the guys. I know I have a role on this team as a linebacker and getting everything going,” said Freeman when asked who the leaders are on the defense. “I’m definitely a vocal guy out there because I’ve got to know what the front is doing, what’s behind me, the corners.

“Everybody’s got to be on the same page.”

Freeman learned how to do that when he entered the NFL at 26 following a three-year stint with Saskatchewan of the CFL, taking over the Colts middle linebacker job upon the arrival of new head coach Chuck Pagano. He had over 100 tackles in three of his four seasons in Indianapolis while also collecting 12 sacks, eight forced fumbles and four interceptions in that time.

Those results might catch the eye of the seven linebackers who have two-or-less years of experience in the league that currently sit on the training camp roster. It’s hard to think of a four-year veteran being one of the older players, but Freeman hopes those players will view him as such.

“I believe that they trust me, that I know what I’m doing,” said Freeman. “I’ve been in the league for a few years. I just turned 30, I might be the oldest guy on the defense, I guess that kinda factors into it also.”

As long as Freeman plays like a 20-year old the next five months, he’ll be the leader his age says he should be.