Football / Sports

First step for Jordan Lynch: Learning to block

CHICAGO -- Jordan Lynch scanned the defense in front of him as he pretended to receive a handoff during Bears rookie camp Friday. It was an odd thing. The former Northern Illinois quarterback is used to distributing handoffs, not taking them.

Lynch, though, progressed through his pass-protection read and smoothly released into a pass route, offering no indication it was his first day as a running back.

The Heisman Trophy finalist eroded his inexperience with each repetition during three days of practice. But to keep the clock from striking midnight on his Bears career, he must prove he can provide pass protection in addition to his well-established running skills.

That's reasonable enough. It's just that Lynch has never blocked before.

He knows, however, he won't be graded on a curve at final cuts. His urgency in developing the skill was evident over the weekend in how he clung to fundamentals.

"Blocking, what we've been doing, it's all with your feet," Lynch said. "If your feet are in the right place at the right time and you're working your feet, you're pretty much going to have the block. If you're trying to just muscle them all up top, that's when they slip in, that's when you miss a block."

With that understanding, Lynch's development began. And he has plenty of help, starting with running backs coach Skip Peete.

Peete noted that most running backs aren't refined pass blockers coming out of college unless they played in a pro-style offense. Having coached running backs in the NFL since 1998, he has an established plan for teaching backs to pass block.

"You start with ground zero, the fundamentals of the technique of their approach, their strike, their hand placement, and obviously their anchor and what they have to do in order to position themselves to make a block -- and you go from there," Peete said. "Until they learn and understand exactly the proper technique and fundamentals to do it, they struggle."

Lynch knows his improvement will require practice and more practice, given the many components to the skill.

In addition to good footwork that enables a blocker to square up a rusher, Lynch's hands must be "within the framework of the (defender's) body," Peete said. "Whether you're going to be on the inside (jersey) number or outside number is based on how the guy is rushing you or where the quarterback is located."

Bears coach Marc Trestman preaches the importance of blocking from the inside out, meaning a blocker's strength must be his side closest to the quarterback. And the back must possess an aggressive physical element.

"They do get the opportunity to set the real tone because they get the real shots," Trestman said. "They get the opportunity to take people down and set a physical tone for your offense."

Lynch seems to have that edge, coaches said. He also should benefit from the understanding of pass-protection schemes he gained as a quarterback.

Because shoulder pads and tackling were prohibited at rookie camp, Peete evaluated the backs on whether they knew their blocking assignments and positioned themselves accordingly. In that regard, Lynch tried to maximize his experience.

"Just knowing the protections, who to pick up, as a quarterback, you have to understand the concept of a play," Lynch said. "With running back, I can't just learn the one route. What I'm trying to do is learn it like a quarterback, learn the concept so I know where to go and what not to do."

The remaining element, coaches say, is desire. Running backs throughout the NFL aren't always interested in impeding a 280-pound lineman, lest they become a speed bump.

That apparently isn't an issue with Lynch. He impressed the Bears first with his willingness to change positions and then by how he attacked the challenge over the weekend.

"We've taken guys over the years who didn't want to block and didn't have any idea how, to wanting to block and knowing how," Trestman said. "He wants to, so we have 50 percent of it done. Now we've just got to teach him."

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