For Chicago Bears rookie running back Jordan Lynch - who played in a number of a high-profile games as a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist at Northern Illinois University, including the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl against Florida State - tonight's contest against the Cleveland Browns will be the biggest game of his storied career.
Lynch has been climbing uphill throughout training camp and the preseason, and tonight is his final chance to show he deserves a spot on the team's roster or practice squad.
Bear Report sat down and talked one-on-one with Lynch, whose NFL career will be largely impacted by his performance in tonight's preseason finale.
“I’m all set to go out there in Thursday night’s game. I’m making sure that I’m fundamentally sound, both mentally and physically ready. I’m not expecting any surprises. I know my techniques. I know what I’m supposed to do out there. I feel that if I play fast and have fun everything else will fall into place.
“I’ve been getting a lot of reps in practice this week. In my experience, the more reps you can get the better. There is no substitute for that on-field experience. The more experience you get the better off you are. I’m definitely feeling more and more confident with each day. I’m beginning to relax out there and I feel that this week the game will slow down a little bit for me.
“With all the special-teams work and all the running, I’m kind of physically exhausted right now. I was a very mobile quarterback but special teams work is a whole other level of physical fitness. We’ve been doing a lot of work giving the starters a look at what they might face. That’s a lot of running around as well. I’m gradually becoming accustomed to it but it’s a definite change for me.
“They haven’t really told me yet where I’ll be getting in on Thursday night. If it’s special teams, then that’s fine. I’ll go anywhere I’m told to go. Third or fourth quarter I’d imagine I’d get in there for some reps. My goal is to help this team win the game and also to help them down the road.
“Making the switch in position from quarterback was initially pretty challenging but as time has gone on I’ve become increasingly comfortable in other roles. I was known at NIU as a physical quarterback so the physicality of football at this level is not a surprise for me. The thing that is different in the NFL is that guys are bigger and faster here.
“The game last week was rough because if you are a competitor, anytime you are out on the field you want to win. A loss is never enjoyable. But I am trying to take out of the experience the positives and learn from them. It’s always an education to go against players who function at that high level. Facing the champions of the league can be kind of intimidating but I learned to just get on with things and play.
“This is an exciting week with a lot of pressure. Guys have gone already. All the new guys are more or less on the bubble. We need to demonstrate our worth to this team.”
You’ve never had to compete for a roster spot before. Discuss that experience.
“I think its very healthy. The NFL is all about competition and who wants it more, who wants to be the best. It’s a great challenge to go out there and demonstrate that I belong. I’m confident but slightly nervous, as we all are at this point.
“I’m focusing primarily on my love for football. For me nothing’s more fun than going out there and flying around. I’m tuning out questions about the roster or about my future. My total focus is on playing, as it should be right now. I’m a rookie. There’s no way I’d figure the whole thing out if I took the time to think about the situation.
“I love to play at full speed. I love the hitting, the contact and the competition. There’s no other sport that offers the same kind of satisfaction, at least in my view. When I came into the NFL I thought I knew what I was getting into but I really didn’t. The physical conditioning of a professional running back is night and day from college. If I make the practice squad, I feel that the sky is the limit. I can develop and there are so many things I can do. I can play quarterback, I can play running back, I can be a receiver. I'm capable of giving our starters a variety of looks.
“And if I do not make this team at least there will be tape and perhaps another team will take me. The coaches tell us that we’re not only auditioning for this team but for other teams in the league as well. Just being seen is so very important. You never know what will happen from that.
“He’s a quiet kid when he’s around players. Very down to earth and easy to be around. I enjoyed him and never had a problem with him. He does get a lot of attention and that has to be tough at times. But he seems to approach football-related things calmly and I’m sure he’ll handle that aspect of all the media attention maturely as well.
“I’m a football guy so whatever happens, I’m focusing on the enjoyment of being out here competing every day. It’s rare to have the opportunity to get to do something you love so much. I’m tuning all the other stuff out, doing what I have to do and thinking that the rest of the stuff going on will take care of itself.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.