Chicago Bears: What’s next for the offensive line following Grasu injury?

What a bad break for Hroniss Grasu.

In the midst of a strong offseason and training camp in which he seemingly answered all the questions we had about him last season, the second-year center tore his ACL during Saturday’s practice at Soldier Field. He will have surgery and will miss the rest of the 2016 season.

Head coach John Fox and those who saw the play called it a non-contact injury, occurring while blocking downfield on a screen pass to Jacquizz Rodgers. According to Fox, Grasu was “changing direction and it didn’t go well.”

Unfortunately, more often than not, a knee injury while making a cut screams ACL injury, and Fox even acknowledged that it looked fairly serious when he saw that play happen. Now, we know that it is.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Soldier Field turf appeared in substandard condition near the spot where Grasu fell, with multiple seams in the sod as well as some dying grass. The stadium has been used recently for an AC Milan-Bayern Munich soccer match and two Coldplay concerts, possibly explaining the rough surface.

Akiem Hicks, who has played at Soldier Field as a member of the New Orleans Saints, said the field was “fine” and that “you can’t blame everything on the field,” noting that the field was more or less the same as it had been other times he was there. That’s not exactly praise, however, and while this injury could’ve happened regardless of the field conditions, these reports are unfortunate.

Having seen firsthand the progress Grasu had made this offseason, from the weight he added to his frame to the improved technique with his hands, it’s a terrible shame that his season ended like this. He did everything he was asked to do this offseason and training camp, and injuries robbed him of the chance to show what we could do. That’s life in the NFL, I guess.

While it’s certainly not the end of Grasu’s career—after all, our own Roberto Garza tore his right ACL in 2003 and famously came back and played all 17 games the next season even though the replacement ligament “disappeared”—and he may be able to compete for a starting spot next year, the Bears have tough decisions to make as to who takes his place in the immediate future.

The first two options being considered are rookie left guard Cody Whitehair and veteran lineman Ted Larsen. Both have had some practice at center during training camp, though only Larsen has ever played center in a game, including starting 13 games there for the Tamp Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

This experience would seem to make Larsen the most logical option to take over at center. Though Whitehair has taken snaps there, can he handle making all the calls in a game when he’s still learning the left guard position at the NFL?

For my money, the safest play would be to put the more experience Larsen at center and allow Whitehair to develop at his current position.

That said, putting the physical, chippy Larsen at left guard and the more finesse, technical Whitehair at center would also make sense, both in creating an aggressive guard tandem of Larsen-Long on either side and also in providing some veteran presence between Whitehair and Charles Leno Jr. in that scenario.

Using either Larsen or Whitehair at center, especially now that Kyle Long is back and healthy at right guard, makes more sense at this point than promoting second-string center Cornelius Edison, who has never played in an NFL game, or Amini Silatolu, a backup lineman with all his experience at guard.

The free agent market could also be utilized to help the Bears fill their current void, though this option may be less likely. For example, Will Montgomery, the man who opened last season as the starting center, is still looking for work, having recovered from the broken leg that gave Grasu the starting job last year.

However, he, or anyone else the Bears sign off the street, is likely not one of the five best lineman the Bears could field opening day and therefore would probably just be a depth signing. Not to say they couldn’t use depth of course…

And to address the elephant in the room: yes, the release of Matt Slauson, who is now in line to start at center for the San Diego Chargers, looks much worse given this injury. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that Slauson was viewed as being an ill-fitting piece to the Bears’ offensive scheme, being a lesser athlete than his potential successors.

He wasn’t so good that the Bears could ignore that fact, and so I highly doubt they regret letting him go, though they could certainly use him now. Only time will tell how this scheme works in his absence; therefore, it’s too early, even now, to say that the Bears made a mistake.

This week—including Thursday’s meeting with the Denver Broncos—will tell us more about how the Bears plan to survive this setback for an offensive line that looked like it was coming together. Their decision on the matter, and the injury that caused it, could be a defining point in this season.

Khari Thompson

I'm currently a graduate student studying biology at the University of Notre Dame that follows sports (especially the Bears and Bulls) less like a hobby and more like a second job. Also a fan of all things dinosaurs. And Tolkien. Twitter: @kdthompson5

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