Bears: Jermon Bushrod paying it forward, even if it costs him his job


Bears: Jermon Bushrod paying it forward, even if it costs him his job

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.”

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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.

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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.” 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.