The fullback position may be viewed as a dying breed in the NFL, but for the Chicago Bears, they clearly value lead blockers.
Three-year veteran Michael Burton and rookie Freddie Stevenson are battling it out for a spot on the 53-man roster.
For Stevenson, an undrafted rookie from Florida State, he's loaded with experience. The 6'0", 241-pounder was a three-year starter for the Seminoles.
On Saturday night, he made a nice grab on a play action pass from Mitch Trubisky. Stevenson took the pass 17 yards for a first down as he fought for a few yards after making the catch. Two plays later, Trubisky tossed a touchdown to Benny Cunningham and gave the Bears a 24-14 lead with 1:55 left in the game (VIDEO BELOW).
— Jake Perper (@BearsBacker) August 22, 2017
Stevenson takes us through his first NFL catch and how the play was drawn up. Plays like this will help him stick around on the roster.
"That was a play that was called because we saw the defense continuously crashing down on our zone plays so we knew that we could get them with a play action pass," Stevenson told Bears Backer. "think that as long as I continue to show my versatility on offense and my ability to block and play special teams then I will put myself in a great position."
Tracking back to the draft process for Stevenson, he was signed following the conclusion of the seventh round on April 29.
He says he was hanging out with his family, trying to enjoy the process and take his mind off the draft when the Bears called him that Saturday night.
"I was excited but I was receiving calls from other teams after the draft so I was just trying to decide which team was the best team for me to sign with," Stevenson said. "I eventually signed with the Bears of course and I was very excited once the process was over."
At Florida State, Stevenson appeared in 50 games across four years, totaling 292 yards and seven touchdowns (132 rushing yards and five touchdowns, 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns).
After a successful run with the Seminoles, he expected to be drafted. He said a lot of teams reached out to him saying that he was high on their boards and he was expecting to go in the fifth round.
Colleges came out to see Stevenson on his pro day and his lone private workout was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"It definitely puts a chip on my shoulder because I believed that I was worth a draft pick," Stevenson said. "I definitely feel like I have to prove that I am a weapon even in a time when people think fullbacks are dying out."
Going to a major program like Florida State certainly does wonders for prospects. Stevenson was no different.
"FSU taught me how to be ready to play at a high level at all times," he said. "The NFL is very competitive and somebody is always coming for your job but competition at FSU was the same way so it prepared me for the NFL."
Stevenson first played football at the age of 6 playing pretty much every position on the field; running back, receiver, linebacker, defensive end and cornerback.
"I've always dreamed of being an NFL player and I was honestly confident in my ability early on in my Pop Warner football days," he said. "I knew I had a special skill set and as long as I worked hard I knew I could make it."
In high school, Stevenson played at Bartow where he was a linebacker and fullback. He says playing linebacker can help on special teams because it gives him the ability to cover kicks and make tackles.
The Bears are an organization run by general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox and Stevenson likes being around them so far. He called Fox a player's coach and Pace a great general manager.
"It feels great to be a part of the Bears organization," Stevenson said. "There is so much history here, the fans are passionate and the facility is top notch."
He said it is fun being part of a team full of veterans and a deep class of rookies.
"Training camp has been great," Stevenson said. "I feel like I have been playing well and I have been showing my versatility and adjusting to the NFL."
Talking about a certain rookie, Stevenson had nothing but great things to say about No. 2 overall pick quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He pointed out that Trubisky's composure stands out.
"He [Trubisky] has so many expectations and so much pressure on him but he keeps his composure in all situations," Stevenson said. "He is a guy that wants to be great and puts the work in to be great."
Stevenson says he believes he can be a Pro Bowl player down the line in his career. In terms of what the team is getting on the field, he said this about himself.
"The Bears are getting a very versatile player," he said. "I can block and open up holes and I can also carry the ball as a running back if ever needed and catch the ball out of the backfield. I feel like that versatility has been on display for me during camp.
Off the field, I feel like I am a great role model. I love to do a lot of community service and I wouldn't do anything to embarrass the organization."
Stevenson can't stress enough how crucial special teams will be in the Bears' decision to keep him on the 53-man roster through the Sept. 2nd cut date. 1,100 players around the league, 37 per team will be let go next Saturday.
"I just have to continue showing my versatility and that I can play special teams because you have to be able to play a lot of snaps in order for a team to feel comfortable keeping a fullback on the roster," he said. "But ultimately I am performing for 31 other teams so even if I don't end up here I know I will land somewhere."
He knows what needs to be done to crack the Bears' roster. Stevenson is a gritty player with loads of experience and if he can prove that versatility, he'll make the coaching staff's decision that much harder. Fullback is important for an offense that ranked No. 3 overall in rushing in 2016 and re-signed left tackle Charles Leno Jr. to a four-year, $38 million deal on Wednesday.
Stevenson could pave the way for Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Co. for quite a while. Or he could be starting somewhere else in the league. Regardless, he has shown he can get the job done on the big stage. That says a lot.
Favorite player - Mike Alstott, Devin Hester, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike Tolbert and Leonard Weaver
Playlist - William Murphy, 21 Savage
Favorite movies - Boyz N The Hood, The Waterboy, The Matrix
Favorite TV shows - Power, Martin, Wayans Brothers
Hobbies - Playing 2K Basketball, Grand Theft Auto, hanging with friends and reading the bible.
Fun fact - "I'm super goofy"
Nickname - "Nightmare"
In case you missed it: Getting to know Bears undrafted rookie WR Tanner Gentry
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