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|Kyle Adams played in eight games during his rookie season and will play a hybrid tight end-fullback position this year.|
Each player's road to the NFL is unique, especially the ones who fight to land those last few roster spots. Every week this season, espnW will profile the players who just made the cut, but still have a chance to make an impact. Meet the 53rd Man.
Kyle Adams had it better than a lot of the other "bubble guys" at Chicago Bears camp this year. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end survived every roster cut in 2011, getting on the field in eight games last season before ending up on injured reserve after hurting his hamstring.
He knew what it would take to make the team; he'd done it before.
Of course, a lot had changed in one year. The Bears' offense, formerly under the watch of coordinator Mike Martz, who saw the tight end as nothing more than an extra blocker, is now run by Mike Tice, who had big plans for the position. Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth returned as last season's starters and rookie Evan Rodriguez was dazzling coaches with his route-running and athleticism.
"I knew it was going to be tough for me to make the team," Adams said. "Evan is a really good player and you can only keep so many tight ends. For a long time it was uncertain whether I was going to make it, so I just tried to give it my best."
The Bears' coaching staff didn't make it any easier on him.
"They don't tell you a whole lot about what they're going to do," said Adams with a laugh. "A guy like me who's trying to make the team, you try to play so well that they have to find a way to keep you. That was always my goal."
It wasn't the first time Adams had to just put his head down and hope hard work would be enough. After going undrafted out of Purdue, he was forced to wait out the lockout, training at his former college with the hopes of getting picked up when football resumed.
"It was a challenging time," he said. "I was at Purdue and I needed to pay my bills, so I was working as a janitor cleaning the locker rooms I used to have all my stuff in. I trained and worked and did my best but as the lockout dragged on I had some doubt. I'm a Christian, though, and I prayed about it all. You know, kind of asking God about it, and I felt like I was supposed to give the NFL a shot. It did get a little long, though, as it pushed into July."
After months in limbo, Adams got his chance when he joined the Bears in time for training camp and a shortened preseason.
"Last year, as a rookie free agent, you got to training camp and got your playbook on the first day," he said. "The coaches were like 'Look, it's gonna be very difficult. We're gonna try to help you as much as we can, but we gotta install this at the same pace as we would otherwise.' So you're just kinda thrown into the fire trying to figure everything out. But this year with all the offseason workouts and everything, I feel a lot more comfortable."
With four tight ends and a fullback on the roster for nearly all of camp, Adams always had one eye on the "reapers," the guys tasked with grabbing players to be cut and ushering them to the office to turn in their playbooks.
"I managed, by the grace of God, to avoid those guys again," he said with a laugh.
The Bears ended up trading fullback Tyler Clutts to the Texans, allowing them to keep four tight ends on their 53-man roster. Spaeth and Davis will be more traditional "Y" tight ends, lining up next to a tackle, while Adams and Rodriguez will be F-backs or "move" tight ends, a hybrid of the fullback and tight end position.
A lot of guys get through training camp on faith. Faith in their abilities, faith in their work ethic, a blind faith that things will work out and they will make the team. For Adams, the faith that got him through camp, and gets him through every day, is his Christian faith.
He says the turning point in his life came his sophomore year at Purdue, while on a mission trip to Haiti with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"It was the first time I'd ever seen poverty like that, ever seen suffering," Adams said. "I really feel like God put it on my heart, that country. I went down there and accepted Christ as my savior. I really started reading the Bible, thinking about the way I live and my relationship with God. That's where my faith became my own."
He went back three more times in college, raising money with fellow FCA members to send a few young Haitians to school. After college he accepted an invitation to be on the board of the Ephraim Orphan Project, which provides a home and education for needy Haitian children.
Down at the orphanage he isn't Kyle Adams, tight end for the Chicago Bears, he's just "a big, goofy, tall guy."
"There's a language barrier," he admitted. "I speak a little bit of Creole and they speak a little bit of English. They don't play football in Haiti obviously, so I don't think for them [being an NFL player] means a lot. They know I'm some sort of athlete, but to them I'm just Kyle."
Adams made his fifth trip to Haiti this past June, drilling water wells, helping build a fence and feeding hungry kids, many of whom he'd met on previous trips.
"Some of the kids, all of a sudden they've got facial hair, they've got girlfriends!" he said with a laugh. "I've known 'em since they were 12 and now they're 17. That's one of the neatest things, to see some of the kids I know get jobs and become adults.
"There's so much I learn from the people in Haiti -- they live very simply. The faith they have, the determination they have in spite of poverty. The last time I was down there I met a kid, he'd lived in a mud hut his whole life and he was trying to earn enough money to pay for his own schooling so he could make something of himself. For me that's really humbling, to think of everything I've been given in this country," he said.
"Every time I go down there I think I've kind of got it figured out and every time I come back with some new perspective or some new lesson."
He's shared a few of those lessons with his teammates, some of whom seem eager to support his efforts and get involved themselves. For Adams, having the chance to talk about his faith and shine a light on the causes he supports is important, but he takes care not to push his beliefs on anyone else.
"Nobody wants to be talked at," he said. "Especially when it comes to faith. My faith is the most important thing in my life, I'm always willing to share it, but other people have different faiths and different sets of beliefs and I try not to be overly pushy with that.
"With football you have a platform to promote something like the Ephraim Orphan Project. One of the biggest passions in my heart is to help those people and share my faith. It's something I hope to do for the rest of my life."