Will Thump Get a Bump?

Lake Forest - Practice squad member Keith Belton could get the opportunity he's been looking for if fullback Bryan Johnson's back injury keeps the veteran out long-term. But "Thump", as the amiable Bear is called, isn't letting his hopes get too high and he's definitely not taking anything for granted.

"I can't think of anything that I'd like better," Belton said. "I've been waiting for a chance to go in since the first day I arrived at Halas Hall."

Belton entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2004 after signing with Detroit. He spent the first 16 weeks of that season on the Lion's practice squad, before finishing the season on the active roster with the Bears.

Although Belton has yet to see any regular season action, he feels that he is well prepared should the coaches call on him.

"I played for two years at Syracuse," Belton said. "That was a pro style football program, with pressures and intensity much like that I have found so far in the NFL. It was amazingly similar to what I'm finding here. Having a background like that has made my transition to the pros that much easier. I feel that I'm up to speed and understand the requirements of the job."

Belton has also been getting considerable help from veterans Johnson and Jason McKie.

"I look for help anywhere I can find it," Belton said. "And both Jason and Bryan have been extremely cooperative and generous with their advice. I don't want to be bothering them all the time with my questions, so sometimes I just watch them on game film or in practice. They are both consummate professionals who understand the game. They are hard workers with an excellent overall approach. I even learn things watching them warm up. What they have contributed to my knowledge is huge."

Belton impressed the coaching staff in training camp. He worked with the starters before the team added veteran Marc Edwards. An ankle injury also slowed his progress. So far, Belton has spent Sundays watching Bears games from the sidelines.

"That's difficult. It's OK if you are a fan and you expect not to be in the action, but as a player, it's very very hard psychologically," Belton said. "Sure I'm there on the field, but I never get the chance to share in the excitement, the camaraderie that happens during the game itself. So in that sense I feel like a complete outsider."

There was a reason, however, that Belton won the Ray Martino Award at Syracuse, an honor given to the player exhibiting loyalty, perseverance and enthusiasm. He may be frustrated, but Belton never allows that impatience to show.

"Why would I want to do that? It wouldn't do me any good and it would make me out to be a complainer," Belton said. "I'm willing to put in my time and run this thing out. My hope is that at some point, the coaches will recognize what I can bring to the team and get me out there on the field."

Although Belton isn't quite sure at this point exactly what it is it will take to make the jump to the active roster, he's doing his best to get there.

"I go to all the meetings and I spend hours watching film," Belton said. "I am trying to learn about playing fullback in the pros and how I can optimize my talent. I pay attention to details. I study my opponents as if I were going to play, even if that turns out not to be the case."

So far, Belton feels that his ability to see the field and his physical power should be an advantage.

"I'm not a huge guy, but then again neither are Bryan or Jason. It's more in the way the body is shaped," Belton said. "I feel that I have the physique to succeed at the fullback position. I have excellent leg strength and I can power through a play pretty well."

It's a long shot that Belton will be active for the game against Atlanta, but that doesn't keep him from dreaming.

"I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like," Belton said. "That's my lifelong dream, to be out there in an NFL game with my friends and family at home watching me on TV. That's what all the work goes toward. I am confident that my time will come. And if it's sooner rather than later, I'm certainly ready to contribute to this team."

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