Role reversal: Bears' Hroniss Grasu embracing guidance from Kyle Long


Role reversal: Bears' Hroniss Grasu embracing guidance from Kyle Long

When Kyle Long set foot on campus in Eugene as a transfer from Saddleback College in 2012, he was tasked with finding a way to untap his raw athleticism in an effort to crack an already established Oregon Ducks offensive line.

His veteran to look up to on the Ducks was none other than Hroniss Grasu.

Grasu, already a mainstay on Oregon's line as the starting center of an intricate but dominant Chip Kelly offense, took Long under his wing to help him grasp what it would take to excel as an athlete both on and off the field at a college football powerhouse.

The decision to lean on Grasu was a wise one for Long.

Long went on to make five starts for the Ducks during the 2012 season, raising his draft stock in the process. Long's brief success at Oregon resulted in him being chosen in the first round (20th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Bears. Since then, Long has started 31 games at right guard for the Bears and garnered two Pro Bowl selections, the first offensive lineman in Bears franchise history to achieve the latter.

[MORE BEARS: Jeremiah Ratliff - Kyle Long 'could be one of the best ever']

"It's crazy," Grasu told "I was just telling somebody this morning it's just crazy how times have changed when he came to Oregon. I was a guy there and I was helping him out, showing him around and now it's the complete opposite. Now I'm looking up to him. Learning from him and just having him here and how good of a football player he is, how smart he is and the attitude he brings to the game. Everybody can learn from him.

"He's been giving me advice ever since he left Oregon. Every year we were always talking all the time. He told me, 'Just go out there and have fun, like you're a kid in the backyard having fun. Treat it like it's backyard football with your friends. If you're having a fun attitude towards it, you'll play better.' Just seeing the way Kyle works at the game and does everything about football, you've got to have fun."

Once the pupil trying to absorb as much knowledge as he could, Long has now become the teacher, imparting his wisdom on one of his closest friends.

"When I came into Oregon, Hroniss was pretty much my vet," Long said. "He was this two-year starting center and I was a guy fighting for a spot on the team, and now I'm trying to help him out with calls and stuff. It's pretty funny."

And it's no surprise that Long played a big part in making sure that Chicago would be Grasu's NFL landing spot.

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When the Bears signed 32-year-old veteran center Will Montgomery, who played for Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase with the Denver Broncos and called his move to Chicago with the aforementioned coaches a "package deal," it looked like the chances of the Bears drafting an heir apparent to recently departed center Roberto Garza would be slim.

However, unbeknownst to the Bears front office was that a four-year starter with 52 games under his belt, a team captain that helped Oregon win two Pac-12 titles and reach the BCS Championship, along with three All-Conference awards would still be sitting on the board in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Grasu's relationship with Long was just the icing on the cake for the Bears.

"It was kind of late in the process," Bears GM Ryan Pace said last spring after selecting Grasu with the 71st overall selection in the NFL Draft. "We kind of had our evaluations in. Hroniss is easy; his makeup is off the charts. There’s certain guys on our board that we’ll check a ‘Bears’ box, a little ‘Bear’ that’ll pop up. To us, that’s a guy who has every trait we’re looking for. His makeup is outstanding. Grasu is one of those guys.

“And Kyle Long just confirmed all those things when we talked to him.”

Grasu couldn't have been more thrilled to hear his name called by the Bears, knowing he was going to a city like Chicago where his friend has already emerged as one of the leaders of the offense.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

"I'm just so proud to be a part of this organization and part of this city," Grasu said. "It's a great city, great people, great fans and I just hope I can help this team win as many games as you can and make all the fans proud of us and have the stadium sold out every game."

For the first time in his football career, Grasu joins a team where he isn't tasked with starting duties from Week 1. With Montgomery in the fold, Grasu will likely spend his rookie season learning Gase's offensive sytem, but he has two valuable assests in Long and Montgomery.

"I'm Just trying to learn the whole offense and just learn what everybody has to do and I think that every single day I'm getting better at that," Grasu said. "Knowing just not what I have to do at center, but what all five guys on the offensive line have to do and that just makes the game so much easier. Knowing what everyone's assignment is it just slows it down for me. I need to keep doing that and stay on top of my playbook and just going out there and being comfortable. At center you have to be a vocal leader out there, make the call and line up with confidence with everybody on the same page."

If Grasu the student is anything like Grasu the teacher, the Bears and Pace will have earned a passing grade in last April's Draft.

Will Bears offense find its identity vs. Saints?

Will Bears offense find its identity vs. Saints?

The Chicago Bears offense hasn't gotten off to the start that was predicted over the summer, when quarterback Mitch Trubisky's development was praised by Matt Nagy and his Bears teammates, and rookie running back David Montgomery felt like a lock to provide Chicago with an uptick in production as a do-it-all player.

Instead, the Bears enter Week 7's game against the New Orleans Saints with an undefined identity on offense. Nagy hasn't committed to the run game while the passing offense has been inconsistent at best.

Most of Chicago's struggles stem from the poor play of the offensive line, but even so, there doesn't seem to be any one thing this team can hang its hat on offense.

NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms, who spoke with NBC Sports Chicago this week, said the Bears' lacking identity is one of their biggest problems so far this season.

"The first thing is, have a motto, what are you, what is it, what is the Chicago Bears, have a mantra," Simms said. "We know the Dallas Cowboys, they want to run the ball. You’re seeing up in Green Bay, they made a thing, we’re gonna run the ball, and we’re gonna get in the I formation and come downhill and slowly but surely, they’ve built a lot of stuff off of it.

"I think my concern with the Chicago Bears is there’s not one thing they’re great at, and that’s important, because when you’re great at one thing, what it does is it makes defenses go “we have to stop that one great thing,”  and from there, a guy like Matt Nagy, who’s very smart, he’ll be able to play off of that and go, now defenses are doing this to take something away, and now I can do this, this, and that off of it to combat that plan of attack. The running game, there’s just not a lot of patience and persistence with the running game, and I see passing schematics that I think are a little bit repetitive at times, I do think there need to be a few more new ideas and concepts in the passing. But more than anything, it just goes back to find something that’s your bread and butter, and once you find your bread and butter, the defenses have to adjust, and then you can adjust off of that and come up with some creative things to beat that."

The Bears enter Week 7 with the 30th ranked total offense in the NFL, the 30th ranked passing offense and 26th ranked rushing offense. It's a minor miracle (and a credit to Khalil Mack and the defense) that this team is 3-2.

But for Chicago to make a push for the playoffs and a potential Super Bowl run, the offense has to do its part. And it has to start Sunday against the Saints. It won't be an easy task; New Orleans' defense is ranked 10th in yards allowed per game so far this year.

"Find the identity, what is the identity, I don’t know what it is right now," Simms said. "It’s just a bunch of plays and formations every week, I never go, oh this is what they’re trying to do, I get it. I’m always going, I don’t know, it’s underneath the center, it’s a run, then it’s shotgun for four plays, then it’s back to underneath the center and running the ball, and then it’s running the ball out of the shotgun. I don’t know what they’re trying to get accomplished on a week to week basis."

Mitch Trubisky will reportedly start for the Bears' Week 7 matchup with the New Orleans Saints

Mitch Trubisky will reportedly start for the Bears' Week 7 matchup with the New Orleans Saints

We'd been circling this news all week, and now it's getting closer to reality: late Saturday night, Adam Schefter reported that QB Mitch Trubisky will be under center for the Bears' matchup with the Saints this Sunday:

Trubisky was a full participant in practice from Wednesday to Friday of last week, but had still been listed as questionable up to this point. He returns after dislocating his left shoulder in Week 4 against the Vikings and missing the team's Week 5 loss to the Raiders.

The news comes at a crucial juncture of the season for the Bears, who are currently 3-2 and in third place in the NFC North.

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