For the first time in years Dustin Lyman is without a protective brace on his left knee, which stemmed from injuries from his collegiate and pro days.
While Lyman knows a new coach may mean a fresh start for some, he's realistic about what his chances of moving into the starting lineup.
"I'm kind of buried on the depth chart," Lyman said. "It's hard to breakthrough. I feel if I could start here or somewhere else I could prove to be a really good player, but getting that opportunity just hasn't happened for me. I don't know if it's going to happen, but it's my goal."
Lyman has had difficulties since being drafted in the third-round of the 2000 draft. A linebacker at Wake Forest the Bears decided to convert Lyman to tight end, a position he played in high school. The idea came on the recommendation of former director of college scouting Mark Hatley.
However Hatley left a year later and Lyman quickly found himself without anyone in his corner. Despite showing flashes of being a playmaker during the ‘01 preseason the coaching staff left Lyman inactive for much of the season. With the team winning there was little the third string tight end could do to justify being put him on the field.
"For me the problem was with the last coaching staff. They saw me as a player that was a converted linebacker and I don't think I could ever really get that out of their minds," Lyman said.
The few times Lyman has gotten a chance to play he's produced. In his only start last year he led the Bears with six receptions against Detroit. His best game as a pro was a two-touchdown performance against Green Bay in December of 2002, but again an injury sidelined his progress. This time he rupturing an ACL graft in the knee he injured as a junior in college.
Clark had a solid season in his first with the Bears, catching 44 balls, which is eight more than Lyman has during his four-year career. Still Clark is not a downfield threat and that's something the position is lacking.
"It's hard to find one body who can do both skills (receiving-blocking) that you want," he said. "So we're going to have to be able to use our pool of talent to get everything done that we need from that position. But to be able to stretch the field vertically is going to be something that's going to be critical for the tight ends for this offense to succeed."
Lyman finished the past two seasons on Injured reserve, but for the first time in a long time Lyman is healthy. It would seem the most athletic tight end on the roster could find a home in Terry Shea's offense.
"To be honest I don't really see it happening, but I'm doing everything I can. I'm trying to state my case on the field," Lyman said.
"I think the coaches like me. They don't know me very well and they don't know anyone else very well, but they kind of have in their minds what the team's going to look like so to try and breakdown those impressions is difficult."
Lyman will have an opportunity when the Bears begin practice in Bourbonnais on July 28.