Hroniss Grasu impressing veterans as Bears approach decision point


Hroniss Grasu impressing veterans as Bears approach decision point

After 11 NFL seasons and a cluster of Pro Bowls, Jeremiah Ratliff doesn’t impress easily. After spending some of Thursday’s practice against rookie center Hroniss Grasu, the Bears veteran defensive lineman was impressed.

And not only by what Ratliff saw when the two faced each other occasionally in practice, but also afterwards, when the rookie sought advice from not only coaches and fellow offensive linemen, but also a long-time top defensive lineman.

“The thing you can’t measure is the fight in a man’s heart and he has that,” Ratliff said. “He has that willingness to learn, always asking questions, wanting to succeed, and really wants to do well.

“As far as his size, I’m not worried about that. As long as he’s working the way he’s working, he’ll get it done.”

[MORE BEARS: Hroniss Grasu, Matt Slauson share reps with 1's but no decision on starter]

With swing lineman Patrick Omameh sitting out a second day of practice with an ankle injury, Grasu’s chances of beginning his NFL career as the Bears starting center next Sunday in Kansas City have taken two steps toward reality.

Omameh has been in meetings but neither he nor left tackle Jermon Bushrod attended practice Wednesday or Thursday. Charles Leno is the presumptive starter at left tackle if Bushrod remains out with a concussion.

Ratliff and the Bears do not appear concerned if Grasu opens at center against the Chiefs. Coach John Fox started Ryan Kalil for three games as a rookie center while in Carolina and Kalil, 299 pounds out of USC, another Pac-12 program, went on to earn four Pro Bowls and one All-Pro designation.

“I think he’s athletic, he gets to the second level, he’s smart, he’s played in a winning program [Oregon],” said Fox. “We liked a lot of his football character. To name a few. He’s not deficient in any area. As far as what offense they’re playing in college, it doesn’t really matter. They have to come in and how they adapt to what we’re doing.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

One key is the comfort level of quarterback Jay Cutler with Grasu, since the two rarely worked together through the offseason, training camp or preseason. With his time at Oregon, Grasu has worked extensively with snapping in the shotgun but considerably less in the direct-snap world of the NFL. That said, the Bears ran 47 of their 75 plays in the Oakland game from a shotgun set.

“With Hroniss you just know that there are going to be some mistakes out there,” Cutler said, adding quickly, “with ‘Slau’ though, too. There are going to be some things that they just haven’t seen. They’re going to experience it. But I know those guys are going to give me everything they’ve got and that’s all I can ask for.

Grasu would be the youngest center Cutler has ever played with, going back to veterans Tom Nalen and Casey Wiegmann in Denver, then Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, and then Will Montgomery in Chicago.

“I’ve always had older centers who make your life a little bit easier,” Cutler said. “So Hroniss would be the youngest guy, but it’s fine. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to play his butt off. If we go with Slau, we already have one game under our belt.”

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears


Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.


That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'


Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.