Chicago Bears – Midseason Rookie Grades
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C – Hroniss Grasu (3rd round) – Really struggled in the preseason, consistently being overpowered by larger, stronger defensive tackles. Grasu couldn’t get movement in the run game or anchor in pass pro. So when starting center Will Montgomery got hurt and Grasu took over in week 5, I was worried for Jay Cutler’s life. Sure enough, early in his first start, Grasu was overpowered by Chiefs DTs who sacked Cutler in his own end zone and forced a fumble that was recovered for a defensive TD.
That play is where Grasu’s season turned around. He didn’t let the mistake go to his head, but instead found a way to use his speed, intelligence, and agility advantages to get better leverage and negate some of the strength discrepancy. Grasu made a couple of key blocks on the Bears game-winning TD drive later that game and across the board his teammates lauded his play after the game.
Grasu improved in his 2nd start and it was looking like the Bears had found a potential long-term center, but he suffered a neck injury in practice the next week and has missed the last two games. One and a half solid games is hardly enough to get excited about, but the way Grasu bounced back from early season struggles, his above average footwork, and elite athleticism have been impressive.
His biggest problem is a lack of strength which can be improved in the weight room this offseason. It’s been a rocky first season, but I’ve seen enough flashes of talent to project Grasu as the Bears starting center in 2016.
John Timu (undrafted) – Made enough of an impact in the preseason to earn a spot on the Bears final 53-man roster and appeared in the Bears first four games before being sent back to the practice squad after some mistakes in special teams coverage. Timu wasn’t drafted due to concerns about his speed (4.8), but was a very productive player in college (328 tackles, 6 INTs) and three-time team captain at Washington.
Timu is a little slow for an NFL linebacker, but has great instincts against both the run and pass, sheds blocks well, and showed the ability to make plays during the preseason. He will need to improve his special teams coverage skills, but will have a chance to earn a backup ILB role in 2016 and could surprise if given a chance.
S Harold Jones-Quartey (undrafted) – I had never heard of the rookie out of Findlay college before the Bears signed him off the Cardinals practice squad. He was forced into action when Antrel Rolle missed three games from weeks 4-6. Jones-Quartey played OK considering his lack of experience, but his lack of coverage skills were exposed a bit and he gave up the long pass to Lions WR Calvin Johnson that ultimately led to the Lions win in week 6.
Covering Megatron is a tough matchup for even an experienced safety, so Jones-Quartey shouldn’t be criticized too much for getting beat, but he hasn’t seen many defensive snaps since. The return of Rolle has kept HJQ on the bench, but he has contributed on special teams. Long term, he is most likely a back-up / ST player who the Bears may look to upgrade this offseason.
OT Tayo Fabuluje (6th round) – Was considered a development pick and no one expected the 6’6, 353 pound Fabuluje to contribute this season and he hasn’t. To his credit he may have been the Bears best right tackle in the preseason, but is too raw to see regular season snaps right now and also needs to improve his conditioning. Fabuluje has an interesting story, is a surprising athlete for his size, and looked more polished than expected during the preseason.
He was just suspended for four games for taking an amphetamine banned by the NFL that was in a weight loss supplement Fabuluje reportedly purchased over the counter. I’d be surprised if we see him on the field at all this season, but he could be in the mix for the backup right tackle job in 2016
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WR Kevin White (1st round) – Will need to be activated by the end of week 11 or be ineligible for the rest of the season. Unless the Bears win two of their next three difficult games (@STL, DEN, @GB) their playoff hopes are pretty much shot and it would make little sense to risk another injury by playing White if he’s less than 100%. All reports on White’s attitude and work ethic have been positive, which is a good sign for his long-term future. He still has dynamic upside and a full offseason absorbing the offense and practicing with Jay Cutler should have White ready to make a significant impact in 2016.