Chicago Bears starting center Hroniss Grasu was limited in practice yesterday due to a neck injury and did not practice today. His status for Sunday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings is in serious doubt.
"He tweaked [his neck] yesterday [during practice]," head coach John Fox said today.
Grasu has started the last two games in place of Will Montgomery, who was placed on IR after breaking his leg in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders. In that contest, Grasu was not active, which forced Matt Slauson to slide from left guard to center. If Grasu can't go this week, expect Slauson, who was limited today with knee and shoulder injuries, to again man the pivot.
"[Slauson] has done it before, so if we have him in there, we feel good about that," Jay Cutler said.
With Slauson at center, the Bears will likely use Patrick Omameh at left guard, where he played aginst the Raiders after Montgomery was felled. Recovering from an ankle injury that kept him out of the Week 6 contest against the Lions, Omameh was limited in practice today.
"Pat is coming back," said Cutler. "It’s kind of rotating up there. Whoever is up there, it’s kind of who we’re going to go with. I have confidence in them. I know our game plan will help them out some. At the end of the week, we’ll have it figured out."
Also limited today was left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who missed the past three games with concussion and shoulder injuries. Bushrod is expected to suit up this weekend.
"[Bushrod] is the standard," Cutler said. "You know exactly what you’re gonna get out of him, a true pro, each and every day comes to work and tries to get better. You know at the end of the day, he’s gonna do that.”
The Bears have been shuffling offensive linemen all season, so moving Slauson to center shouldn't have a major impact. The problem this week is the Vikings use a lot of blitz packages that put pressure on the center by overloading the A gaps with linebackers.
“It is stressful. It is stressful. There’ll be a lot of communication up front this week with the different looks that the [Vikings] show," said Cutler. "I think they’re kind of the pinnacle of the double A [blitz] in the NFL right now because they show eight [defenders] up [in the box]. Those other teams that do it, you can handle it with the [running] back and the line. These guys, you have to incorporate a lot of different stuff because [safety Harrison Smith] comes, their two inside guys come, the nickel comes. They've got every combination."
Minnesota has the seventh ranked defense and have allowed the second fewest points in the NFL. The defense is also ranked in the Top 10 in total sacks (17).
"With [linebacker] Chad [Greenway] in there and some of those other linebackers, they do a good job of knowing where the points are, knowing who the Mike is and getting themselves in the best possible scenario for their defense," Cutler said. "You’ve got to be on it. You kind of have to play a little game with them, show a lot of different things. Hopefully, we can run the ball a little bit, get ourselves some third-and-manageable and kind of limit that.”
At 4-2, the Vikings are right in the thick of the playoff hunt, so expect defensive coordinator George Edwards to empty the playbook in order to pressure Cutler and force him into some hurried throws.
"They do a great job as far as disguising who is coming [on the blitz]," Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "That is why Coach [Mike] Zimmer has had the success he has had over his career. He makes it tough on offenses. He always has. You saw last week what it did to Detroit so it’s been that way for a long time and you just have to do a good job of giving the quarterback options, making sure that we do a good job in our protections, knowing who to block and working our system."
With a re-worked offensive line, accomplishing those tasks won't be easy, meaning Slauson and company need to have a stellar performance for the Bears to pull off the upset victory.