Cornelius Lucas has played more this season for the Bears than he has at any other time in his six-year career.
Lucas started in Week 3 when a bout of vertigo took starting right tackle Bobby Massie out of commission in the hours before kickoff. Lucas saw increased time against the Chargers and Lions when the offense began to feature him as a third tackle for running plays.
Then, two weeks ago, Massie was sidelined again with an ankle injury. Lucas stepped into the lineup as the Bears strung together their best two offensive performances of the year. The Bears haven't missed a beat with the 6-8 Lucas on the edge.
"It's a good feeling to be able to help my team out," said Lucas. "Good feeling to get some reps, contribute."
The past three weeks might be the best chance Lucas has had to contribute since his days at Kansas State. At that time, Lucas was working with his underclassman roommate: a guard by the name of Cody Whitehair.
After Lucas' graduation, Whitehair replaced him as the Wildcats' left tackle. Two years later, the Bears drafted Whitehair in the second round and moved him to center. Although Whitehair is now a Pro Bowl center and one of the team's veteran leaders, Lucas likes to remind him that he remembers the 18-year-old freshman from Abilene, Kansas, back when the NFL seemed distant.
The accolades and long-term contract haven't changed Whitehair in the least, according to Lucas.
"He was damn near the same as he is now," said Lucas. "Cody's always been the same guy."
Whitehair laughed at Lucas' opinion but didn't dispute it. However, he did say that he learned a lot from his two years playing by Lucas under the direction of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.
"Hard work pays off," said Whitehair. "You know, we were with a coach who was a pretty tough guy: old-school guy that loved guys that were hard workers and just respected the grind."
Whitehair was excited when the Bears picked up Lucas after the reserve tackle spent the previous two years trying to catch on with the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
"It was a fun conversation," said Whitehair, "obviously, being able to play with him again, but it was about work. He was coming in to try to earn a spot, and that's what he did."
While he was happy to see a familiar face in Chicago, Lucas chose the Bears because he sensed the highest potential for stability.
"It was the best opportunity," said Lucas. "Who really wanted me? The Bears showed a lot of interest in me, so I wanted to come."
Lately, that interest has paid off. Despite injuries to Massie and starting right guard Kyle Long, the offensive line has managed to find a rhythm.
"I personally feel that the little bit of success that we had was just us gelling together," said Lucas, "seeing these looks in reps over and over again. Later on in the season, we're a little bit more calloused, a little bit more polished, a little bit more prepared."