Player Spotlight: Jerry Schumacher

BOURBONNAIS -- Jerry Schumacher knows he's a long shot.

He wasn't drafted out of college. He's been signed as a free agent twice by the Bears. He was cut at the end of training camp in August last year, and spent the entire 2003 NFL season out of football for the first time since he was able to put on a helmet and shoulder pads.

As tough as it's been looking for work in the NFL, opportunity has knocked again on the former Mt. Carmel standout's door.

Schumacher, who starred at linebacker for the University of Illinois, was signed by the Bears in January, and immediately allocated to NFL Europe by the team in February. He started at middle linebacker for the Amsterdam Admirals, and didn't return home until June 14.

There wasn't much of a break, either. Schumacher immediately attended four "Organized Team Activities" with the Bears, and now he's in training camp for the second straight year still in hot pursuit of a job.

"All you can ask for is a shot to play and I'm looking forward to it," Schumacher said. "Obviously I'm glad to be back. Sometimes it's not good going in blind to a new team. But (the Bears) knew me and obviously wanted me back for a reason."

Schumacher's chances of making the team are slim. He's wearing No. 62 (an offensive linemen's number), but he's got one thing on his side: He's still eligible for the practice squad, which means the organization can develop him and he can still earn a decent paycheck. The fact that the practice squad was expanded from five to eight this year also gives Schumacher hope.

"That's definitely a possibility," Schumacher said of the practice squad. "I'll do anything I have to do to stick around. Hey, it's playing football – you can't beat that."

Schumacher helped himself in NFL Europe for the 5-5 Admirals. He finished second on the team in tackles (53), added a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's considered undersized for a middle linebacker at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, but he's got good speed and pursuit skills.

Schumacher started 35 games at Illinois, finished with over 100 tackles in three different seasons and was a two-time All-Big Ten performer.

"Being off a year, it was tough," Schumacher said. "You don't know what to do. I thought about going back to school to finish up, but I decided to go to (NFL) Europe instead. I played real well. I know I can play at this level, but you also need an opportunity and a little luck."

Schumacher is getting practice time at all three linebacker positions – strong side, middle and weak-side in training camp. He figures it can only help his chances of sticking around. Also, with the current injury to star linebacker Brian Urlacher, it gives a guy like Schumacher a chance to show what he's got.

"You don't wish an injury on anybody, but I'll do anything to make it," Schumacher said. "If playing all three (linebacker) positions will help, I'll do it if it helps me get my shot."

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