Going into the Chicago Bears training camp there are a lot of stories and all of them have legitimacy as to how instrumental they are in the Bears success or failure this season. However, none are more important than the ascent of the Bears young second year center- Hroniss Grasu. Some may be as valid, but few can argue the importance of a team’s offensive line and how the center of that line makes it the key to its success.
There are many reasons for this. Centers make the calls at the line. They help with most of the double teams. They recognize and foil blitzes and get down-field to throw blocks at the second level to extend running plays into long gains. However, in the Bears case, it goes even beyond that.
Offensive lines only succeed if they play as one single entity. What the man does to your left or right directly affects not only your performance, but of the entire offensive unit. If Grasu can’t cut it at the NFL level, that will likely force the Bears to play an inferior player than what they were expecting out of the 3rd round pick out of Oregon. Grasu adds the exact type of athleticism the Bears are in need of to make their zone running scheme operate at a consistently high level. That will key the Bears play action passing game and lead to big strikes down-field for the highly coveted explosive plays.
Any offense worth it’s salt is usually at the top of the league in explosive plays both running and passing. Gaining big chunks of yardage make life easier for an offense. Not only does it demoralize defenses, but offenses also need fewer plays to work down-field to get in scoring position which lessens the chance of turnovers. Offenses that play the time of possession game usually have inferior talent and have to holster their attempts at sophisticated offenses to keep it close and rely on their defense and special teams far too much. Sounds a lot like Lovie Smith, doesn’t it?
Like Lovie’s style, attempting to play winning football with time of possession is an antiquated one. Nowadays, you score to win and run the football to protect leads. Playing from behind opens the door for opportunistic defenses to make plays at turning over the football.
The success of Grasu could quite possibly ensure that the Bears offense stays explosive early in games and allows that big athletic brutish offensive line to pummel its defensive opponent as time winds down.
By all accounts, Grasu has bulked up nearly 20 pounds of muscle without the loss of athleticism. As he himself put it via Adam Hoge of WGNradio.com:
"My weight has gone up, but it’s all good weight, it’s all strength,” Grasu said. “I don’t feel any different than last year. I added about 10 pounds or so, but I don’t feel any different. I feel just as fast, I feel just as quick."
Even more important than his size is his mastery of the offense. It allows him to play faster and get to where he needs to be without thought which was one of his worst enemies last season. Part his lack of development was due, in part, to him not coming from an NFL offense from college. Oregon’s offense is about as gimmicky and takes almost all responsibility out of the hands of the players. However it’s behind him now and now along with his added strength he’s ready to play fast.
Also from Hoge:
"I found one thing every single week to get better in the playbook, found one concept in the playbook and worked on that all week. I just got it down to where I don’t have to think about it anymore on the field. Now it’s really been paying off because I’m playing faster, I’m more confident."
For the Bears to contend this upcoming season, the offensive line need to take that next step. Good blocking never slumps. In many ways, it’s the backbone of a football team. Sounds as though Grasu has taken the challenge of fixing his weaknesses in the off-season and he’s ready to be that leader in the center of the Bears’ offensive line.