Not yet time for Bears to 'find out what they have' in Hroniss Grasu


Not yet time for Bears to 'find out what they have' in Hroniss Grasu

In some unwanted way, some of the latest injury misfortunes to befall the Bears might have forced them into some unwanted decision-making but also delivered some solutions along with the problems.

If there is a problem, it is that none of the solutions cleanly address the center position, for which Matt Slauson is eminently capable but does not address the longer term.

The Bears used a third-round draft choice on Hroniss Grasu, a former Oregon teammate of Kyle Long. And Grasu might qualify as the next-man-up at center, as coach John Fox said, “at some point.”

One temptation could be the “see what they’ve got” approach of inserting Grasu at center between Slauson at left guard and either Vladimir Ducasse or Patrick Omameh at right, operating on the premise that a third-round pick merits an in-depth look. That could happen.

But the Bears have not by any means relegated the 2015 regular season into an extension of training camp and preseason (or if they have, Pernell McPhee obviously didn’t get the memo). General manager Ryan Pace is highly unlikely to step out of character and demand his draft choice be installed, as some in his job have done. And the internal ethic of the NFL is that you earn a job, period, and unless Grasu has won it, simply handing the rookie a job because of draft status is its own mistake.

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Perennial Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz was the Bears’ third-round pick in the 1998 draft. The Bears also had Casey Wiegmann, who’d won the job during training camp and started 15 games even through that disastrous 4-12 season.

Kreutz started just one game that year, then won the job the following camp and preseason in an extremely uncomfortable (for both players) competition — difficult not due to problems between the two, just that each knew the other deserved to be a starting NFL center, as Kreutz later explained. Both were right; Kreutz went to six Pro Bowls while Wiegmann starred at Kansas City and Denver.

But the reality was that Kreutz, one of the great centers in the history of a franchise with a history of excellent centers, wasn’t ready to win the starting job as a rookie.

Grasu’s size is not an issue; Will Montgomery weighs 304 pounds, and Grasu is in that range. Functional strength is always a question with even college stars transitioning to the NFL. And center involves technique as much as strength.

“Back when we had Taylor Boggs as our backup, he learned how to do it just by watching film of other small-type guys,” Slauson said. “So that's what I told Hroniss to do is just get a lot of tape of smaller, older guys using all their tricks.”

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Elsewhere, the concussion and shoulder miseries for left tackle Jermon Bushrod, on top of his earlier back issues, thrust unheralded Charles Leno into the starting lineup against the Oakland Raiders. Leno, who failed to hold onto the right-tackle opportunity he was presented in preseason, produced evidence that the Bears have at least an interim solution at left tackle (Long being the presumptive longer-term answer).

Line coach Dave Magazu already had pegged Leno through the offseason as a versatile option at virtually any of the line spots. Assuming Bushrod’s return, the Bears discovered an option at one of the most difficult positions on the field.

The loss of Montgomery to a broken leg created an immediate need at center, which was ably filled by two people: Slauson moving over into Montgomery’s spot, and Omameh, signed in September after his release by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, handling left guard.

Omameh’s play raises questions about his possibly supplanting penalty-plagued Ducasse at right guard.

Whatever the solution, “I know people get tired of hearing it, but it is a next-man-up approach,” Fox said. “It happens at a lot of positions in a lot of football games in the National Football League. All your backups ... have to be ready to play in a moment’s notice, particularly in the O-line because it is such a group dynamic.

“It’s five guys knowing exactly what the other guy is doing with line calls, pass-protection alerts. We run some no-huddle, so there’s a lot of checks at the line. I think we had maybe a couple high shotgun snaps — I know we had the one center-quarterback exchange problem that resulted in a turnover. But the good news was our guys overcame it.”

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.