After a brief huddle around the 50-yard line with all 90 members of the Chicago Bears early last week, head coach Marc Trestman's whistle signaled the end of the team’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour practice.
While others hurried off of the practice fields of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, Jordan Lynch, a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist, took off his helmet and starting sprinting from sideline to sideline before running routes and hauling in passes from backup quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer.
As the quarterback of the Northern Illinois University football team, Lynch put together two historic seasons for the Huskies in 2012 and 2013.
In 2013 alone, Lynch broke the NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season with 1,920, most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 321 and most rushing yards per game by a quarterback in a season with 137.1.
Despite all of his accomplishments, including finishing third in the Heisman Trophy balloting last December, Lynch went undrafted this past May, and he was quickly signed by the Chicago Bears as a priority undrafted free agent.
After his signing, the team wasted little time in announcing that Lynch would be making the change from quarterback to running back at the NFL level, per Chicago Bears radio network reporter Zach Zaidman:
With the position change comes new responsibilities for Lynch, who has fully embraced the hard work he needs to put in.
“It’s everything,” Lynch said to my Chicago Bears Huddle colleague, Ryan Wooden, and I after practice Friday when asked about the extra time he puts in after practice. “The only way I am going to make this team is through hard work and effort.”
Hard work and effort are nothing new for Lynch.
“He was around the office and in the film room more than any other player on offense,” said Bob Cole, Lynch’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois. “He also knows what is at stake here. I am sure he is doing double the work than what he did here.”
While listed as a quarterback at NIU, Lynch did most of his damage as a runner. His background as a quarterback should help his development in picking up the blitz in pass protection.
“I feel protections,” Lynch said. “I’m a quarterback. I kind of learned the whole concept of the play. I feel that helps me with protections.”
Cole echoed those same sentiments.
"Jordan basically played running back [at NIU] to a certain degree. He understands blocking schemes and has a natural feel for running the ball. The biggest benefit may come in pass protection, where he will have a very good understanding of who his guys are. I have no doubt he will stick his face in there against any blitzer."
Much of the focus is on Lynch making the transition to running back, but he understands his best chance of making the team will be by proving he can contribute on special teams.
“I have kind of accepted my role. It’s going to be special teams,” Lynch said. “I want to fit in at running back, but I feel that will come in down the road.”
Being accepting of a special teams role can be difficult for some players, but his willingness to accept that role is what Cole thinks can benefit Lynch in the long run.
"Special teams is where he is going to have to make his money," said Cole. "I am sure he is wearing out the special teams coordinator. Special teams is all about 'want to'—he has plenty of that. Combine that with the fact that he is an extremely tough individual and I think the Bears really have something in Lynch."
While Lynch has gotten his opportunities to prove himself on special teams during practice, his reps have been limited on offense.
He knows he has to make the most of each opportunity he gets.
“Every rep means everything,” Lynch said. “I [have to] go out there every day and bust my tail.”
“He ain’t got many reps,” starter Matt Forte said about Lynch. “It’s tough on those guys, we’re going into it, coaches telling them your reps are going to be basically in the preseason games.”
With limited reps in practice due to the other options at running back, the preseason is going to be key for Lynch proving what he can do.
“At training camp, I’m going to be in there,” Forte said. “Shaun [Draughn] and Mike [Ford] and most of the older guys are going to be in there. It’s going to be up to him in the preseason games to show what he has out there.”
While his reps have been limited on the field, the Chicago native has quickly become a fan favorite.
Despite being on a team full of NFL stars like Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Jared Allen, Lynch has quickly become one of the most sought-after signatures for autograph seekers after training camp practices, often receiving some of the loudest ovations by the crowd.
“The first time I drop a pass, it might be different,” he said with a smile when asked about all of the cheers he receives.
While the odds may be stacked against him, Cole believes that Lynch has everything a coach could want in a player.
“He is zero maintenance as a player and a person,” he said. “Combine that with his athletic ability, physical and mental toughness and intellect for the game and you truly have a special player.”
Lynch is going to have limited opportunities to prove himself in the preseason, but Cole isn’t going to count him out just yet.
“I have known him for three short years and I wouldn't bet against him.”
Chicago Bears fans shouldn’t bet against him either.
All quotes and practice observations obtained firsthand by the author.
All stats courtesy of NIUHuskies.com
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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