Many college graduates find jobs in a field other than the one they studied for. Things happen in life you don't expect. Opportunities arise. For ex-NIU star QB Jordan Lynch, it may be no different.
While his entire college career was dedicated to being a quarterback, a new career choice has suddenly popped up: running back. It's not a role that he's unfamiliar with. If his major was quarterback, he definitely had a minor in running back.
The NFL draft ended last Saturday without any team wanting the man who finished third in the Heisman throwing passes for them. Doubts still persisted about his arm strength, accuracy, and the offense he ran at NIU. However, that didn't stop one team who saw enough of Jordan Lynch's other skill to reach out to him almost immediately after the draft. Jordan's home team, the Chicago Bears, called. They wanted him - not as a quarterback, but as a running back.
From agent Cliff Brady's discussion with the Chicago Tribune head coach Marc Trestman told Jordan,
"I have 10 different things I can do with you, come with us. Come here and we'll make it work."
Maybe equally important as Trestman's vote of confidence is that of General Manager Phil Emery. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Emery told WGWG-FM 87.7's Dave Kaplan and David Haugh that the move to RB was on him.
"I'll put that on myself. I pushed that agenda in terms of the running back role. ... I went to the Western Michigan game. ... What I saw was a guy with very good run eyes, very good instincts on how to set up behind blocks and how to move through space, particularly between the tackles which you don't see with a lot of running quarterbacks.
You see them out in space and they can make somebody miss out in space. But Jordan can run well between the tackles, off some of their inside option reads. That makes him unique. And what also strikes you is the toughness, the finish of his runs. You're going to have to bring that guy down. He's not going to trip over himself, he's not going to fall from a glancing blow. He just keeps those feet moving, he keeps those pads down. So all of those things, to me, said runner."
Lining up at a new position and with a new jersey number (36), we're left wondering how he may fit in and what are his chances to thrive or even survive with the Bears. This is the Bears' running back and special teams situation as of now.
RB-1: Chicago is not a running back by committee. Matt Forte is far and away the #1 back on the roster. Forte was third in the league in carries last year and finished third on the team in receptions. As one of the top backs in the league, Forte is a work horse. He handled roughly 80 percent of the running duties last year. That trend should continue this season, especially with no other proven back on the roster.
RB-2: With the departure of Forte's back up, Michael Bush, the #2 running back position is open. The man most likely to win that job is a rookie - but not Lynch. The Bears spent their fourth round pick on Arizona's Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'deem Carey.
Carey was highly productive at Arizona. Over his last two seasons, he rushed for a combined 3,814 yards. Very similar to the 3,735 yards Lynch totaled over that same period at NIU.
Both men lack great speed as evident by their identical 40 times at the combine of 4.69. In fact, these two run with a similar style. They have quick feet at the line of scrimage and the ability to shed tacklers at contact. Neither is a break-away type runner but each will fight for tough yards.
Carey is proven at the position and a high enough draft pick he will get every opportunity to be Forte's back-up.
RB-3&4: Who the third string running back is on the Bears can make for a good trivia question - mostly because you never see them. Zero carries from that position in 2013. Second year back Michael Ford and third year back Shaun Draughn are the only players currently on the roster competing for this spot.
Like Lynch, Ford went undrafted in 2013. He came out of LSU where he was primarily a back up RB and kick off returner for the Tigers. The one thing he possess over Lynch is very good speed. Ford clocked in at 4.42 in the 40 at 5'9", 210lbs. While Ford did not record a carry last year, he did have a 100yd kick-off return in the preseason. He will most likely be Lynch's main competition as the ability to contribute on special teams plays a big role for the third string running back.
Draughn is on his third team in three years. He may soon be looking for his fourth.
The first thing Lynch needs to do to succeed as a RB is learn how to block. If he can't protect Jay Cutler when called upon, he's done. He has stated that he hasn't blocked in a long time. However, I think this should be a manageable task for him.
Playing QB gives him insight into picking up blitzes and whose responsibility each pass rusher is. That's the hard part. The physical act is easier. Blocking is a little "technique" and a lot of "want to". Lynch has shown plenty of "want to" - just ask former head coach John Gruden. Gruden was fawning over Lynch's toughness and willingness to initiate contact during his time at Gruden's QB camp.
As far the actually taking a hand off and hitting the hole, I see a smooth and quick transition for the former QB. Jordan's a natural runner and good athlete. Only one day into rookie camp the early tweet reviews sounded very positive.
Trestman on Jordan Lynch: "He didn't look out of place today."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) May 16, 2014
Lynch's transition to RB promising http://t.co/d09eqnGkYb— Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) May 16, 2014
Was a tad surprised that Jordan Lynch totally looked the part as a running back.— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) May 16, 2014
Special Teams: The second thing Lynch needs to show is his versatility. It's what makes him unique. The more he can do on the field, the more value he has. It's a third stringers job to cover kick offs and punts. That's a given for Lynch. But he has the chance to show he can also be a returner.
Lynch has good top end speed, the ability to set up blocks, and toughness. Good traits for a kick-off returner. With the departure of Devin Hester, that position is open and may not be determined until training camp breaks. As of now Eric Weems would be the #1 returner. He just resigned for the league minimum and is probably 6th on the depth chart at wide receiver. Ford is probably the #2 returner and may move up to #1 if Weems is cut. If Lynch can show he's capable of handling kick offs, it may make Weems expendable.
Conclusion: I think Lynch ends up on the roster as the 4th running back, 3rd kick returner and gunner on kick coverage. I also like him in the role of short yardage back.
Neither Dave Doeren or Rod Carey hesitated to let Lynch run on 3rd or 4th and short. It was Lynch, not the 244 lb Cameron Stingily, Carey called upon for that crucial 1 or 2 yards. And more often than not he found a way to get it. The first tackler rarely brings Lynch down and he almost always goes down moving forwards.
If Trestman has 10 uses for him I could only speculate on what the other 6 might be. Read option QB? Slot receiver? Emergency #1-QB? Punter? Holder? Honey Bear? Some of those are possibilities and we'll know more when training camp starts. For now I think Lynch should focus on being a solid back up running back and special teams monster.
A new opportunity has opened up for Lynch. When an opportunity arises the best thing you can do is run with it. If he can run with this opportunity as impressively as he ran the ball at NIU, he's going to be spending his Sundays close to home playing at Soldier Field.