Bears

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

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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 CSNChicago.com. "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.

[MORE BEARS: Bears showing very little before preseason opener]

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.

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

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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.

History.

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'

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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.