The Bears signed veteran center Will Montgomery to a one-year deal in the offseason, to stabilize the offensive line with someone familiar with coordinator Adam Gase from their days with the Denver Broncos. But Montgomery was lost for the season with a leg injury against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, rocking the entire position group. Briefly.
Third-round pick Hroniss Grasu effectively “won” the No. 1 center job in the week of practice after the Montgomery injury. With Grasu inactive for the Raiders, Matt Slauson had moved over to center from left guard. But the days that followed that game, the rookie showed the coaches enough to install him at center, return Slauson to guard and assign Grasu to handle two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Before that, however, back in training camp, coaches saw no reason to over-use Montgomery. Instead they gave a huge share of the work, in practice and in preseason games, to the rookie from Oregon.
“We laughed about it, him saying, ‘You damn-near tried to kill me in [training] camp.],’” said line coach Dave Magazu. “He had a ton of work in training camp and obviously things are a lot different playing center in the pro game than it is in college.
“We thought he was very close to being NFL-ready but there were a lot of things he had to learn. He started to melt a little like an ice cream cone in camp because he was getting so much work.”
Grasu has far from melted. The last Bears rookie to start at center was Olin Kreutz, a third-round pick in 1998, and that was just for one game. Grasu is seen as both the present and the future at the position for the Bears.
Along with the specifics of the job, Grasu has earned the respect of teammates, particularly the ones in his own meeting room.
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“I think,” offensive tackle Kyle Long said. “He did such a great job leaning on Will Montgomery in the months that he’s been here, because Monty has such a unique understanding of this offense having that he’s been there since the birth of it with Peyton [Manning] and variations of the offense.
“Hroniss did a great job using that resource, and obviously Matt Slauson, can’t say enough about Matt Slauson and the job he does, being able to break it down to simpler terms and really show things to the guys—although Hroniss is really smart. We have a lot of complex things that go on within our offense, and he’s done a great job handling that.”
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