Playing football is what Jordan Lynch has wanted more than anything since he was in grade school, and Thursday night in Cleveland he gets one last chance to show Bears coaches he deserves a place on their 53-man roster … or at least on the practice squad.
To maximize his chances of playing at the highest level, Lynch converted to running back and special teams after a record-setting career as quarterback at Northern Illinois. He finished third last season in voting for the Heisman Trophy but went undrafted.
Lynch hasn't touched the football since the preseason opener, when he rushed for 24 yards on 7 carries and displayed the power he packs on a 6-foot, 210-pound frame by steamrolling a Philadelphia Eagles defender on a 12-yard pickup.
But the following week the Mt. Carmel High School graduate played only on special teams, and last week in Seattle he didn't play at all. For someone like Lynch, who lives and breathes football, it was like withdrawal. Against the Browns, he should get a healthy dose of what he lives for.
"I expect you'll see quite a bit of him," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I'm sure he'll have an opportunity to carry the football, to do a little bit of what he did a couple of games ago, when he did very well running the football."
It's not an exaggeration to say Lynch's NFL life hangs in the balance. He's trying not to think about it in those terms, focusing instead on playing the game, which has always served him best.
At NIU he set five NCAA FBS rushing records for quarterbacks, including 1,920 yards in a season and 321 yards in a game, and he led the Huskies to a 24-4 record in two seasons as the starter.
"Now I get to actually go out there and kind of showcase my talent," Lynch said after Tuesday's practice. "I'm really excited. I'm prepared for this. I get a chance to go out there, fly around and have fun."
Despite the differences between running the ball as a quarterback from shotgun formation or out of the option, Lynch has demonstrated there is some carry-over.
"You saw him in college. If a guy's over there," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said, pointing one way, "he runs over there," he continued, pointing in the opposite direction. "He's got natural skill to run the football whether he's at quarterback or halfback."
Lynch's performance on special teams could have a more profound impact than anything he does with the football in his hands. Matt Forte, the Bears' do-everything running back is a workhorse, and fourth-round draft pick Ka'Deem Carey could be groomed as his successor.
On the other hand, kick coverage is a desperate need, as the first three preseason games clearly showed. Covering kicks also is a new experience for Lynch, but he knows it could help him get his foot in the NFL door.
"It's tough for him to make the transition," Trestman said. "(But) he has made improvements. He works at everything; he works at it hard. Under the lights and the fire will be a good opportunity to show what he can do."
The challenge has at times been more than Lynch expected, but he has enjoyed the experience and the challenge.
"I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I really didn't," he said. "The physical condition you have to be in to play running back and special teams is night and day. But it's fun to go out there, and the more reps I get, the better I get."
By 3 p.m. Saturday, Lynch and the other players on the NFL bubble will know their fate. Those who don't find a spot on a 53-man roster will have a better chance than ever to hang on to their NFL dreams since practice squads have been expanded this year from eight to 10 players.
"I feel like being on a practice squad, there are so many things I can do," Lynch said. "I can play quarterback. I can play running back. I can split out and play receiver and just give the (defense) any chance to get a better look (in practice) for that week."
Anything to keep playing the game.