After a rookie season that did not live up to his high expectations, offensive lineman Josh Beekman is back on the field at Halas Hall and ready to help the team going into the 2008 season.
"I thought the transition to this level would be slightly easier than turned out to be the case," Beekman said after Sunday's minicamp workout. "Clearly, I was wrong. I thought that my success at Boston College would translate well. What I hadn't counted on was the fact that the body type I brought to my position wasn't exactly what the Bears were looking for. And really, I was just so green in a lot of aspects. I had a lot to learn."
For help, Beekman turned first to strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones.
"Rusty is a 23-year veteran in this league," Beekman said, "and he's definitely manipulated my body for the better. Generally, he wants muscle mass, but also he wants the players to have the ability to move quickly on the line. I certainly had the size, but perhaps not the ideal speed when I came to the team last year. Also, Rusty really wants each player to have endurance."
What Jones did for Beekman was provide a solid foundation for success both on and off the field.
"Rusty Jones is known throughout the league for his skill in shaping players," Beekman said. "I knew of his reputation, so I was careful to follow every suggestion he gave me."
Jones' prescription for Beekman included a strict diet and an extensive conditioning program.
"It wasn't easy," he admitted. "But I knew to be successful, not giving this my all would be a major mistake. And I have to say that I feel noticeably stronger as compared to a year ago."
Jones also gave Beekman tips on helping his body recover after physical effort.
"Coming into the league," he remembered, "I had no idea of the stresses I'd be under, both physical and mental. Being able to rest and recover is vital to the health of your body and to your success on the field.
OL Josh Beekman
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Now Beekman seems fit and fast and relishes his opportunity to demonstrate exactly what he is capable of on the field.
"So far this year, they have me working out quite a bit as a center," Beekman said. "When I came to the team last year, I was thinking that I'd probably end up as a guard. But center is a position I am quite familiar with from college. And I don't see the fact that I am working at this position now being any kind of a problem if there is an eventual switch for me back to guard."
During the weekend's minicamp, Beekman spent considerable time working with the younger quarterbacks, including Nick Hill, the undrafted free agent from Southern Illinois.
"I enjoy working with Nick both during practice and after practice, as well," Beekman said. "He's having a little bit of a problem with the snaps. I was happy to go over that until he felt comfortable. That's the way I see my role on this team. I do whatever they ask me to. And the more reps I can get, the better no matter what my role might be."
Beekman feels that his patience with newer players is payback for help he himself has received from Bears veterans.
"Olin Kreutz in particular has been really helpful to me," he said. "He goes through moves as long as I need him to, and he does that whenever I ask for assistance. That kind of help and concern is invaluable."
But Beekman himself has more than one rookie to mentor. Former teammate and recent Boston College grad Ryan Poles has come to the Bears as an undrafted free agent guard.
"I can see him right now, standing way down there on the field waiting for me to give him a ride home. He looks kind of lost, doesn't he?" Beekman laughed as he saw Poles carrying in some of the veterans' equipment to the locker room, which every rookie must do all year long. "It feels like college all over again. I was a couple of years ahead of Ryan, and I'd help him out from time to time. Looks as if I'll be doing the same thing now."
And if Beekman has his way, he'll lead by good example.
"This is going to be my breakout year, I just feel it," he said. "I've been putting in the time, my body is ready, and I want to give this team all I've got. I've learned so much in the past year. No matter where I'm lined up, I feel I can make a positive difference. All I ask is the opportunity to show what I can do."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for seven 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.