Thanks to us being part of SB Nation, we have access to hundreds of other experts that cover both the NFL and college football.
This series of Five Questions With... will focus on not only the 2015 draft class for the Chicago Bears, but some of the undrafted free agents as well. This series of articles has become one of my favorites to do here at Windy City Gridiron, as I feel it gives us an added insight to the new players on the Bears.
First up is our interview with Rusty_Ryan11 who writes for Addicted To Quack, the SB Nation site that covers the Oregon Ducks, about the Bears' 3rd round draft pick, center Hroniss Grasu.
Windy City Gridiron - When I watch Grasu on tape, his athleticism really stands out, but how has he fared against the really mammoth defensive tackles?
Addicted To Quack - I actually took a closer look at a couple games to answer this question. I looked at the game against Washington who had a mammoth DT drafted and Michigan State who had one of the best defensive linemen group in the country. During run blocking the Ducks use a lot of mesh blocks on power plays. So this didn't put Grasu in a situation where he had to take someone on by himself. In order to negate the leaner linemen who are athletic the mesh blocking lets the linemen get a push and then let one escape to attack a linebacker downfield.
(Editor: The Ducks run a zone blocking scheme)
In all honesty, in run protection Grasu might struggle. The benefits of him being able to pull to the outside and lead block for a running back ten yards up field might not be a relevant skill set. However, he is excellent in pass protection, picks up blitzes well, handles big linemen, but the simplest answer to your question is he hasn't had to handle them by himself and that might be his weakness going forward.
WCG - Bears' fans like their offensive linemen with a little nasty to their game. Does this describe Grasu or is he more mild-mannered?
ATQ - Rob Moseley who covers Oregon sports within the athletic department says that "Hroniss Grasu is Marcus Mariota without the shy streak. Best leader I've ever covered with the exception of Joey Harrington." That's extremely high praise. Grasu, from all reports, is pretty direct, extremely vocal, and was really the foundation for the last few years of the offensive line at Oregon. Grasu certainly has an edge but Jake Fisher was better known for being nasty on the o-line.
WCG - Oregon was very vague when announcing Grasu's injury last year calling it a left leg injury. Then at Grasu's post-draft teleconference he referred to foot surgery and an ankle rehab. So I'm left wondering what exactly happened to Grasu last season and were there any other nagging injuries during his time as a Duck?
ATQ - Since Chip Kelly became head coach, us Oregon fans have no real idea what any injuries are. Everyone is day-to-day. The school announced it to be a leg injury to be vague, and the foot surgery was probably (entire speculation warning) to fix tendon or ligament issues, and some tendons and ligaments in the foot go up the ankle.
It is really frustrating at times to have no idea what the injury is or what a timeline is, but as long as the coaches keep winning no one has a problem with it. For Duck fans it has been kind of enjoyable to see Chip Kelly's extremely simple, almost mockingly so, answers to the NFL media.
WCG - What would you consider Grasu's biggest strength and what does he need to improve on?
ATQ - Intelligence and athleticism. He called out a lot of the coverages and line responsibilities. He never takes plays off and was always in the right spots. He can pick up blitzes well. He mesh blocks well. Anything that the coaches asked him to do he did, he could do almost better than anyone else in the country. He can pull to the outside and still lead a running back down the field 20-yards past the line of scrimmage.
The biggest thing he needs to improve on is taking the fundamental skills that he's adapted and finely tuned to run the demanding Oregon offense, and reapply the skills to what the Bears will ask him to do. It's a similar situation to Marcus Mariota. Mariota works well, can throw bullets and put touch on deep balls. But can he take what made him great at Oregon and reapply them to the looks that he'll see in the NFL? Not everyone can do it. I don't see any situation where you will find Grasu being a weakness. He's, at a minimum, a safe pick. Can he take on a big DT by himself? Can he handle more complex blitz schemes when NFL teams have more time to lineup, call plays, and adjust on defense? Those are the types of questions that need to be answered.
WCG - Former Duck Kyle Long was very inexperienced when the Bears drafted him 2 years ago, but he became a Pro Bowler at guard. Grasu comes to Chicago under different circumstances, with over 50 starts in his collegiate career, so do you think he can match Long's rise in becoming one of the best at his position?
ATQ - I think the experience in college is going to be a huge advantage to him. The range of defenses he's seen while at Oregon and playing in a conference that puts a ton of guys into the NFL, he's very well prepared to make the jump. I don't think he'll be caught off guard by much in the NFL.
I think what Long lacked in experience he made up for in talent. I think Long's rise is very atypical. I'd love it if Grasu matched Long's rise and Oregon was viewed as a NFL-linemen factory. I don't think he'll match the rise but the most likely scenario in my mind is that he becomes a very strong linemen for the Bears and gives a lot of years of production. If he exceeds my expectations and makes it to a Pro Bowl I'd be happy to be wrong. I think the other end of the bell curve is that he's a good center who isn't a weakness, someone who does their job, and competes week-in and week-out.
Thanks again to Rusty_Ryan11 of Addicted To Quack!