Jermon Bushrod is living nothing less than the NFL version of “pay it forward:” Laid up with an injury, the Bears’ left tackle finds himself in that uniquely NFL alternate universe, where the ethos demands that when you’re injured, your job becomes supporting and mentoring your own replacement – because very often that’s exactly what someone once did for you.
Eight years ago Bushrod was a mid-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints, playing in a total of just three games (zero starts) over the span of 2007-08. Then Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown suffered a torn ACL and other injuries in early 2009, and Bushrod was catapulted into the starting lineup.
Thus began a stretch of 82 consecutive starts for Bushrod at left tackle, taking Brown’s job and eventually leading to Brown being traded away. Notably, it was Brown who provided help and support for his reluctant replacement.
Now Bushrod finds himself in a situation eerily similar to what his was in 2009.
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Bushrod suffered a concussion and right-shoulder injury in the Bears’ loss at Seattle. He has not been able to get back on the field since, cleared for the concussion but still hindered by the shoulder, and is not expected to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, which would be the fourth missed game for a stalwart who’d missed just three games total over the previous six years.
In his place, Charles Leno Jr. has taken over at left tackle, possibly for good, at least this season. But that has come with the committed help from Bushrod, even if it contributes to Bushrod losing his job to the youngster.
“Eight years ago I was that same guy who was just practicing, I was that same guy and someone got hurt and I got thrown in there,” Bushrod said. “You never do this yourself; you have to lean on the older guys, lean on getting help.
“What would I be doing for myself, for this league, if I wasn’t helping to bring the people under me to a better place, better mindset? And if my number’s called when I get back in there, then it is what it is. If not, then I have to be mentally tough and help these guys out and doing my part.
“Because I had that. I wouldn’t be doing myself, this league or any of these young guys any favors if I shied away from this.”
Bushrod is frustrated. He admits it. But the frustration is at just not being able to do a job he has loved and provided for his family, not at Leno or the prospect of losing his job.
His future in Chicago is obviously problematic, for a variety of reasons. Leno continuing his development can make Bushrod expendable with the latter’s $6.5 million base and bonus. Kyle Long projects at tackle long-term and not necessarily at his current right-tackle billet.
But Bushrod, who has lent his expertise with Long, is philosophical.
“I was in the same situation [as Leno],” Bushrod said. “This is how I got my opportunity and I was thrown in the fire. [At] 31 years old, I’m still playing. So at the end of the day, I don’t have much I can be upset about. It’s upsetting that I can’t contribute the way that I want to and I’ve always been used to.”
Bushrod laughed on Thursday at the thought of “coach” Bushrod, given his experience as a mentor while injured. The Bears could come up with worse assistants.
Jay Cutler was sacked at the rate of once every 12.7 dropbacks as a Bear from 2009-2012. Bushrod was signed in 2013. Since Bushrod’s arrival, as either the left tackle or assistant coach, Cutler has been sacked once every 17.6 dropbacks.
Obviously not all due to Bushrod. But “I think he’s the standard,” Cutler said. “You know exactly what you’re gonna get out of him, a true pro, each and every day comes to work and tries to get better. You know at the end of the day, he’s gonna do that.”
“At the end of the day… .” A phrase used by both the quarterback and his primary protector.
“At the end of the day,” Bushrod said, "I have to take this process day by day, week by week, keep myself forward physically and mentally. I can tell you right now: It’s a tough position to be in, but at the end of the day, I have to fight to be a professional, help the guys around me and get myself right.”