CHICAGO — In spring 2007, Jermon Bushrod was the 19th offensive lineman chosen in the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Among those chosen ahead of him were offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, guard Arron Sears, tackle James Marten, guard Andy Alleman and center Leroy Harris.
The Bears took guard Josh Beekman five picks after Bushrod.
There was no apparent reason to take Bushrod higher than 125 overall. He had not been tested consistently against top competition at Towson. He was considered a bit raw and he didn’t have the kind of leg drive and base NFL scouts want.
In spring 2013, Bushrod is a two-time Pro Bowler and the potential solution for the Bears’ problems at left tackle.
What happened between 2007 and 2013 does not happen very often in the NFL. With the help of the Saints’ effective organizational plan and solid coaching, Bushrod developed and matured into a fine NFL player.
This is how it happened.
The Saints didn’t have immediate expectations.
They, however, did have a strategy to turn Bushrod into an eventual starter.
He barely played his first two years and never made a start. That was OK because during that time he worked on technique and developed confidence.
In training camp of his third season, starting left tackle Jammal Brown was injured and Bushrod was thrown in with the first string in a scrimmage against the Texans. Lined up across from him was Mario Williams, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.
And just like that, Bushrod looked like an NFL tackle. Saints coach Sean Payton said his learning curve spiked when opportunity came. He became a starter that year.
“Coaches were very patient with me,” Bushrod said. “They understood I wasn’t going to be ready the first year. Even now I’m trying to get my technique as sound as I can, do all the little things, staying on top of it. If I don’t do that, I won’t have a job. I want to stick around as long as I can, so I have to get better every single day. It’s not about making a night-and-day change. It’s about working hard on something small every chance you get.”
Bushrod’s body developed.
In the last six years, with the help of professional strength programs, he went from being a 23-year old smallish college kid to a 28-year-old NFL man.
“He definitely has worked on his lower body strength,” said Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who oversaw Bushrod’s development as the Saints’ offensive line coach.
“My body is starting to be, I don’t want to say, more like an NFL lineman, but I’m feeling good and strong,” Bushrod said. “I’ve worked on getting a stronger lower body every year.”
His strength has become more functional because he has learned how to use it too.
“I’m honing in on techniques because a lot of days you are playing against guys who are five times more athletic than you are,” he said. “So you have to do the little things — balance, feet, leverage.”
Bushrod was a square peg in a square hole in the Saints’ system.
They drafted him in part because they identified a specific skill set that matched their blocking scheme. It’s the same blocking scheme the Bears will use this season.
“I would agree that this system is good for him,” Kromer said. “He had extremely quick feet, which were important.”
Kromer utilized Bushrod within the system. He used those quick feet, for instance, to get Bushrod on defenders quickly. He saw Bushrod was adeptkeeping defenders’ hands off him, so he worked hard to make that skill stand out.
He also didn’t ask Bushrod to do more than he was capable of.
“Every player is his own player,” Kromer said. “You need to find out what do well that you can accentuate. Then find out a way to cover up what they don’t do well. If you try to treat everybody the same, you’ll get nothing out of anyone.”
Bushrod willed himself into an NFL player.
This may be the most significant piece of his development. He set goals and was industrious in figuring out how to achieve them.
“If you are a smart player like he is, you learn and you understand your limitations, what you can and cannot do,” Kromer said.
Payton also pointed to Bushrod’s intelligence and other intangibles.
“He’s a great worker,” Payton said. “He’s consistent. He’s available. Week in, week out, he’s playing. As a coach, when you know what you have in a player, his exact strengths and weaknesses, that’s a good thing. He epitomizes what we want as far as football IQ, toughness and not being afraid to work.”
Bushrod approaches his job like the fourth-round pick from Towson he once was. That is, he takes nothing for granted.
“I know what I struggle with sometimes, and I know I have to work on it,” Bushrod said.
Bushrod never has stopped realizing where he came from and how he got to where he is.