Last December two decorated college football quarterbacks sat alongside each other during the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony. Just five months later Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel, who finished fifth in the voting, was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to help turnaround their ailing franchise.
The second runner-up in the Heisman voting?
He's a longshot to make an NFL roster.
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Chicago native and Northern Illinois standout Jordan Lynch had offers from both the Bears and the Green Bay Packers after going undrafted last may. Lynch chose the team he grew up rooting for even though the Packers offered him a shot to come into training camp at his natural position of quarterback.
Immediately after Lynch picked the Bears, general manager Phil Emery made it known that the Ex-NIU signal-caller would be brought in as a running back, and his best shot to make the 53-man roster would be on special teams.
Lynch accepted the challenge. A word he knows all too well since his high school days.
Growing up in the Mt. Greenwood area of Chicago, Lynch starred at Mount Carmel, leading the Caravan to two Class 8A semifinal appearances and earned All-State honors after his senior season. Despite the accolades, Lynch's only college offer came from Northern Illinois.
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Lynch not only proved the doubters wrong, but helped put DeKalb on the map. He led the Huskies to a 24-4 record, a BCS appearance, broke 16 single season and six career records and set five NCAA FBS quarterback rushing records.
However, when 256 other college football players' names were called during draft weekend, Lynch knew that he would have to prove himself all over again.
“I know Chicago has my back, and Chicago is rooting for me,” Lynch said during Saturday's Bears Family Fest practice at Soldier Field. “I have to put in the work and do my part.”
Lynch has spent the bulk of camp learning the nuances of playing running back at the NFL level. He's been asked to catch the ball out of the backfield. He's shown ability in both areas throughout his time in Bourbonnais, but the next step is being able to protect Jay Cutler. The Bears coaching staff utilizes their running backs as an extra protector and puts an emphasis on blocking.
“A running back is really part of the offensive line, part of the protection package, so it’s critically important to the success of an offense, that a quarterback has got to feel comfortable with the guy standing next to him and behind him,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said during rookie minicamp. “If he doesn’t feel good about that guy being able to pass-protect, there’s a ripple effect throughout our offensive football team.”
The reps for Lynch have been minimal, and it's hard to get a good feel for his progress during a training camp practice. The real test will come next week when the Bears welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to Soldier Field on Friday night for their preseason opener.
"Football is football, but it's special now," Lynch told CSNChicago.com. "Professional level, playing in front of your hometown fans and family members, it's tremendous. It's going to be an all-time high."
With a crowded backfield, Lynch knows he will need to make the most of his limited reps against the Eagles. On Sunday, the coaching staff released their first preseason depth chart and the former quarterback sits last behind Matt Forte, veteran Shaun Draughn, second-year back Michael Ford and rookies Ka'Deem Carey and Senorise Perry.
But as Lynch faces an uphill battle — something he is all too familiar with — of cracking the Bears roster, there's no doubt in his mind he made the right decision in joining the Bears.
"Where else would you rather be," he said.