LAKE FOREST – In the two years that took Jordan Lynch from a Mid-American Conference unknown to a Heisman Trophy finalist, the sidelines were never a familiar place.
But the sidelines are now Lynch's classroom, a place for the former Northern Illinois star quarterback to observe his latest opportunity to convince naysayers – and he knows there are plenty – that they're wrong about his chances.
As hell-bent as he was on becoming an NFL quarterback, Lynch faces a serious uphill climb just to make the Bears roster as an unsigned free agent running back. As many defenders as Lynch barreled over in his two years as NIU's starter when he carried the ball 586 times for 3,735 yards and 42 touchdowns, Lynch understands the competitive traffic he will have to navigate to hold down one of the backfield spots the Bears will fill heading into the regular season.
So as unfamiliar as the sidelines may seem to him, Lynch understands it's where he must start.
"I'm a rookie. I've got to learn my way, I've got to earn my way on this field," Lynch told Chicago Football last week.
In addition to trying to buck the odds by making an NFL roster after going undrafted, Lynch is trying to do so while trying to learn a position that gives him the best chance to stick with the Bears. Although Lynch averaged 20 carries and 137.1 yards per game last year as a college senior, working full-time at running back is – in his words – a night and day difference.
Where playing quarterback was more mental than physical, Lynch finds himself focusing on being the bruising type of runner Bears general manager Phil Emery liked when he decided to take a chance on Lynch, who grew up only 45 minutes from the Bears training facilities.
It's a physical running style that seems to suit Lynch just fine, putting his emphasis on trying to digest as much of the Bears running game as he possibly can. He spends extra time on the practice field working with Bears running backs coach Skip Peete while also relying on teammates like Matt Forte, who doesn't fight the same job security issues that Lynch does.
Understanding that he likely will have a difficult time making the Bears' 53-man roster, all Lynch can do is to push himself as hard as he can.
"I'm used to the pounding and the beating," Lynch said. "I'm a blue-collar kid from the city and that's the only way I know how to play football."
But effort alone can only take Lynch so far. In addition to Forte, fourth-round draft pick Ka'Deem Carey, Michael Ford and Shaun Draughn are all ahead of Lynch on the depth chart. Bears coach Marc Trestman said after the Bears rookie minicamp that he considers Lynch a "real football player" who didn't look out of place doing what will be asked of him at his new position.
He has also spent time on special teams, which could be another option for a 6-0, 217-pound rookie to make a living at. Trestman said after minicamp workouts that he hopes to put Lynch in a position to succeed and make the team. For Lynch, that means spending extra hours in the film room trying to pick up on schemes and other tidbits that could help him succeed.
Still, holding down a roster spot won't be easy.
Heading into this week's mandatory minicamp and then throughout next month's training camp, Lynch will continue to try and convince his coaches he is worth keeping around. He is well aware of what he is up against, but won't allow the size of the challenge or those who think that he isn't NFL material to stand in his way.
"I've been at the bottom before," Lynch said. "I've just got to keep fighting, keep learning the playbook and just come out here everyday ready to work. There's probably a lot of doubts out there (and people saying), 'This kid can't play running back in the NFL', but that just kind of fuels the fire.
"But I always come out with a positive attitude because I'm just so happy to play this game."
How long that lasts remains unknown. But Lynch, who said he hasn't had enough time for the fact that he's a rookie with his hometown team to sink in, will enjoy it as long as he can regardless of how hard he will have to work to stick around.
"It's a great feeling – I know that," Lynch said. "You really can't have a bad day in this office."