The Chicago Bears last off-season parted ways with long-time center Roberto Garza. To replace Garza, the club signed veteran Will Montgomery, who played under head coach John Fox in Denver the previous season.
Yet GM Ryan Pace also made a long-term move to solidify the center positoin, selecting Hroniss Grasu in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Grasu, who played alongside Kyle Long at Oregon, was lauded for his movement skills, something the Bears felt would help contribute to their zone-blocking scheme.
While he's definitely athletic, the preseason was eye-opening in terms of Grasu's lack of power. In the final preseason contest, Grasu was consistently plowed over by Browns third-string defensive linemen.
The coaching staff saw the same, which is why Grasu was a healthy game-day scratch through the first month of the season. Yet Montgomery's broken leg thrust Grasu into the starting role by Week 5.
What everyone saw in the preseason carried over to the regular season, where Grasu continued to struggle with the NFL's big, powerful defensive linemen. He's severely lacking in terms of pure strength and does not have the lower body thrust nor the upper body power to drive defenders out of the hole on 1-on-1 blocks.
That was a problem for Chicago's run game, which ranked 20th in league with 3.9 yards per carry. In fact, when running behind center last year, the Bears averaged just 3.55 yards per rush, which ranked 26th in the NFL.
On the move, Grasu is arguably the best lineman on the team. He gets to the second level in a hurry and has the athleticism, quickness and awareness to lock up linebackers up the field. That's the strongest area of his game.
Yet as an in-line blocker, he lacks proper technique, which other physically challenged NFL centers use to mask their weakness.
In pass protection, Grasu wasn't a total liability. Per Pro Football Focus, he gave up just one sack and no QB hits, with 12 QB hurries. Those are pretty solid numbers, although they are a bit misleading, as he received help from the guards on nearly every Jay Cutler drop back.
Bottom line: Grasu has potential but he's still very much a project. He needs to become stronger and more fundamentally sound. His athletcism is something the Bears can build around but only if he refines the rest of his game.
Expect the Bears to sign a veteran in free agency, possibly Montgomery, which will allow Grasu another year to develop.