BOURBONNAIS – Looking back, Jermon Bushrod wishes he would have grasped certain truths that he does now.
At 29, the veteran Bears left tackle finds that he has to do more to stay sharp than he used to. Earlier in his career, Bushrod said he simply could come to practice, go lift and then focus on his Sunday performance. Entering his eighth NFL season, though, Bushrod is realizing that staying on the field and keeping himself healthy requires more work on his part.
But now as part of a Bears offensive line that returns all five starters from a group that last season only allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked 13 times (as opposed to 29 in 2012) Bushrod embraces the effort that is required to hold down his starting job.
Even if that means he has to put more effort in.
"The older you get, you get little nagging injuries and things like that," Bushrod said after Friday's practice at Olivet Nazarene University. "You've got to do whatever you've got to do to get ready to go."
Outside of 35-year-old center Roberto Garza, Bushrod is the oldest member of the Bears offensive line. Since signing a five-year, $35.9 million contact in March 2013, Bushrod has paid extra attention to becoming more fundamentally sound, focusing as much on his technique and footwork as anything else. But now charged with taking another step forward in not only protecting Cutler and creating the Bears running backs room to operate, Bushrod understands what is involved in maintaining that effort.
He, for one, isn't willing to let up in doing his part.
During Friday morning's practice when the defense again was the story, Bushrod was impressive in one-on-one pass rush drills, relying on a variety of moves to hold off his defensive opponent. More than once, Bushrod more than held his own against defensive end Jared Allen, showing he still can withstand big-time challenges.
Even though he has had to work harder to stay on top of his game, Bushrod believes he still can perform at an elite level – no matter what outsiders might say given the fact he is getting older. Bushrod knows the only people he needs to continue to impress are his teammates, coaches and front office personnel who gave him a contract last year that made him the highest-paid Bears offensive lineman of all time.
Bushrod, who spent the first six years of his career in New Orleans, has proved to be a dependable blocker who has become a key cog on the Bears' line. To maintain that reputation, Bushrod has kept up a work ethic both to make the unit as a whole better and to make himself more sound heading into a new season.
His efforts haven't gone unnoticed.
"I appreciate his approach to the game," running back Matt Forte said Friday. "He's always studying and he really doesn't make mistakes up there. If he does, he's not going to make it twice."
That's where some of the extra work Bushrod has put in had paid off. Even with some of the nagging injuries that he is forced to deal with, Bushrod realizes now that he is older that he must be as diligent away from the field as he is on it, realzing that his body is more prone to breaking down more than it did in the past.
It's a lesson he wishes he would have learned during his younger days. But putting time in is part of the process that he appreciates the most along with the chance he is getting from the Bears to show that he still can hold up his end of the bargain as the offensive line works to take another step in the right direction to keep the Bears offense healthy.
But like with player health, Bushrod knows he can't take anything for granted.
"I'm just loving the grind," he said. "You have to love being out there and you have to fight to get better every single day. If you don't, then this opportunity you have, someone else is going to have it."