Amid the cut-off tape, shoes and bric-a-brac, the feet of left tackle Charles Leno Jr. after Sunday’s 18-17 Bears win over the Kansas City Chiefs was a game jersey. Not Leno’s; a Chiefs jersey No. 91, worn by rush-linebacker Tamba Hali, a gift from Hali to Leno, the latter a young offensive lineman who had just effectively shut out one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL.
Did Leno give his to Hali? “He didn’t want mine,” Leno said, with a very contented smile.
Kansas City edge-rush terrors Hali and Justin Houston were each limited to 2 tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits, no tackles for loss, by Bears tackles Leno and Kyle Long.
But the Bears-Chiefs story line up front really centered around rookie Hroniss Grasu being told not long before the game that he would be starting at center in his first NFL game ever. But the game ultimately was marked by superb protection of quarterback Jay Cutler in the crucial fourth-drives on which the Bears were penalty free and sack-free.
Grasu appears to have settled the question of Bears starting future for the short term and very likely the long term.
“He was on the whole thing,” said guard Matt Slauson. “He did great, stepped in there as a rookie and I thought he did great.”
It was far from easy. Kansas City threw both their nose tackles (Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard) into multiple sets against the Bears, lined up over the gaps immediately to either side of Grasu, and in situations that Bears linemen said were unusual points on the field. Howard was able to get by Grasu in the second series to sack Cutler, leading to a fumble that was recovered for a Chiefs touchdown. The fault was not entirely on Grasu, however; guards Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse were not able to seal to the inside and exact assignments were difficult to pick out in the breakdown.
More important, breakdowns like that disappeared. Grasu may have been inactive over the first four games but he was hardly inactive Sunday or in the weeks leading up to this.
“Even when I was inactive the last couple of weeks, I was preparing like I was playing,” Grasu said. “These guys, the O-line, the whole offense, accepted me. They brought me in with open arms and they really made me feel comfortable. When we were out there, there was no panic for any of us.”
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Slauson returned to his familiar spot at left guard and was instrumental triggering the Bears’ silent count as well as making line calls with this being Grasu’s first NFL game of any kind other than preseason.
The center makes the initial “point” identifying the middle linebacker and other keys, communicates, and then is ready to go. But Sunday was Grasu’s first NFL moment and had enough to do with snapping the football and contending with a strong inside pass rush.
So when things changed, he didn’t always have time, particularly when the Bears were in shotgun, waiting for Slauson to tap him on the left hip to begin the snap count.
“But I do [have time],” Slauson said. “I’m watching for the ‘heel’ [quarterback lifting his heel to signal] and when I get the heel, if [the Chiefs] move, I’ve got time to call a move over here or wherever, and then give the tap.”
Moon's Grade: A-