Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije

Dozen Canadians in NFL to start the season

Idonije the best of a growing group south of the border

Watching the Chicago Bears play defence should be special for Canadians, since Manitoba-native Israel Idonije plays an integral part along the defensive line.

There are now a few teams in the NFL that get solid weekly contributions from Canadian players, whether it’s Vaughn Martin stuffing the run for the San Diego Chargers or Danny Watkins protecting Michael Vick from another injury.

Idonije is making the most noise of the Canadian players though, as the versatile defensive linemen is in his eighth season with the team.

Israel Idonije, Defensive End, Chicago Bears

The 6-foot-6, 271 pound defensive end is a very productive starter for the Bears, his team since 2004.

“I have been pleased with Israel Idonije since the first day I got here,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said after last weeks final preseason game. “You know what type of play you are going to get from him.

Idonije was born in Lagos, Nigeria but his family moved to Brandon, Manitoba when he was four years old.

He didn’t play football until high school but his size and athleticism made him an immediate force. He attended the University of Manitoba and played football there before eventually being drafted by the Ottawa Renegades of the CFL.

Idonije was focused on playing in the NFL though and was eventually signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. That season he never made it off of the practice squad and the Browns ended up cutting him.

Fortunately, Idonije had caught the eye of the Chicago Bears staff and they signed him to their full 53 man roster. He slowly made his way up the depth chart and is now a full time starter, on one of the better defenses in the NFL.

Here’s a look at the other Canadians currently in the NFL.

Orlando Franklin, offensive tackle, Denver Broncos

With all the hype surrounding the health of Peyton Manning, it’s hard to believe that a Canadian kid will play a large part in keeping Manning healthy.

Orlando Franklin, who grew up in Toronto, will be the starting right tackle for the Broncos and charged with protecting the fragile quarterback.

The 6-foot-7, 338 pound tackle was introduced to football in Canada before he moved to Florida prior to his senior season in high school. Franklin was the 46th pick overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and started every game last season at right tackle.

Vaughn Martin, defensive end, San Diego Chargers

The young up and coming defensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers, put up some astounding workout numbers prior to the 2009 NFL Draft and in turn was drafted in the fourth round by the Chargers.

Martin was raised in Toronto and London, Ontario playing high school football at London South Collegiate Institute. The 6-foot-4 327 pound Martin will be a starting defensive end for the Chargers on Monday Night Football this week against the Oakland Raiders.

Nate Burleson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions

Despite only living in Canada for a short time when his dad played for the Calgary Stampeders, Nate Burleson is very proud of his Canadian roots even sporting a maple leaf tattoo on his back.

The 10 year NFL veteran receiver is currently playing for the Detroit Lions and is an important piece in their high scoring offense. He set a career high with 73 receptions last season but is more of a possession receiver now instead of the scoring threat that he used to be in his earlier years. He has had two seasons where he caught nine touchdowns, one with the Minnesota Vikings and one with the Seattle Seahawks.

Danny Watkins, Right Guard, Philadelphia Eagles

Having only played football for four years, NFL draft pundits were amazed to see the Philadelphia Eagles draft Kelowna born Danny Watkins in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Watkins attended Butte College to study fire sciences and become a firefighter but was recruited to play football due to his size.

The 6-foot-3, 310 pound guard excelled at Butte and transferred the next year to Baylor University. This season Watkins is the starting right guard for the Eagles and will be opening lanes for superstar running back LeSean McCoy.

Louis Phillip Ladouceur, Long Snapper, Dallas Cowboys

The Montreal born long snapper has made a career as a perfectionist at a position that receives very few accolades. He debuted in 2005 for the New Orleans Saints before moving to the Dallas Cowboys where he has played since 2006.

Jon Ryan, Punter, Seattle Seahawks

The Regina native currently plays for the Seattle Seahawks. He played originally started in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before the Green Bay Packers signed him.

Shaun Suisham, Kicker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wallaceburg, Ontario’s own Shaun Suisham is the current kicker for one of the most storied football franchises in history, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tyrone Crawford, Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys drafted Tyrone Crawford from Windsor, Ontario in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The rookie has now officially made the roster and will get to represent America’s Team this year.

Philip Blake, Center, Denver Broncos

The Broncos seem to love Canadian offensive linemen. They drafted center Philip Blake in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft and he has made the final roster. It is unlikely that he’ll see much playing time unless the injuries pile up in Denver.