It could be argued that Hroniss Grasu was the most improved player at Chicago Bears training camp the past week.
The second-year center put on 10 pounds in the off-season, which clearly helped him once the pads came on. He was already quick and agile, with good feet and balance. His issues in eight starts as a rookie last year were technique and power.
Combining that added weight with his quick feet did wonders for Grasu, who has been the most consistent blocker during 1-on-1 pass-rush drills in camp. He's been able to stymie nearly every defender he's faced due to improved strength, size, footwork, technique and balance.
Yet all that means nothing now. Grasu has a torn ACL in his right knee that will require surgery. He's very likely done for the year.
This is a tough blow for a number of reasons.
First, the Bears had an insurance policy for Grasu in place during OTAs by the name of Manny Ramirez. Ramirez was an accomplished NFL center who was signed to push Grasu for the starting gig in camp and provide good veteran depth in case of injury. Unfortunately for the Bears, Ramirez retired a few months later, leaving a big gap on the roster that has yet to be filled.
Second, as I pointed out, Grasu has been really solid in camp. He was taking big strides during his second year in Bourbonnais and had the look of a legitimate NFL center. He's easily the best offensive lineman on the team at the second level and he was improving in his ability to anchor.
Third, the Bears don't have a clear-cut backup plan and now must scramble to find Grasu's replacement.
To remedy the situation, head coach John Fox, as well as GM Ryan Pace, have four legitimate options.
1st: Elevate Cornelius Edison
The Bears first showed interest in Edison in the pre-draft process last year and signed him to the practice squad midway through the regular season.
Edison is a second-year undrafted free agent out Portland State. As a senior in 2014, he was named the Rimington Award winner, given annually to the best FCS center in the nation.
The 6-3, 309-pounder has been working as the second-team center throughout camp and has held his own. He's been decent in both pass-rush and team drills, and doesn't look overmatched at this level.
Edison is by far the most experienced center on this team, one who is comfortable at the pivot and has years of experience making O-line calls.
2nd: Insert Ted Larsen
A free-agent acquisition from Arizona this past off-season, Larsen has been working at guard with the first and second team, while also rotating at center with the third team during camp.
He's a career guard with limited experience at center, but Larsen is a savvy veteran who has started 57 games during his six-year career. He's more of a technician than a mauling blocker, so center might fit his skill set best.
3rd: Slide Cody Whitehair Inside
Whitehair was a guard and tackle for Kansas State and, other than some practice reps at the pivot during the Senior Bowl, has very little experience playing center. He's rotated at center with the third team during camp but he's struggled.
Whitehair definitely has the athleticism to play inside and could be a good long-term option at center but plugging in a rookie -- one who has never played in an NFL game, nor played any meaningful snaps at the position -- to lead your offensive line is far from ideal.
4th: Sign a Free Agent
Effective starting offensive lineman aren't usually available at this point in the season but it won't hurt to bring in more talent to compete. One viable option is Will Montgomery, who started five games for the Bears last season before breaking his leg.
Montgomery is 33 but played well in limited action last year. He's a veteran with experience in the system, so Montgomery could hit the ground running.
Best Option: Edison
The Bears have had some bad luck along the offensive line. Along with the Grasu injury, two veteran blockers chose to retire after signing contracts with the team. As a result, there is a concerning lack of depth at each position up front.
Larsen is the best O-line depth piece on the roster, but at guard. Due to a Day 1 camp injury to Kyle Long, Larsen has already been thrust into the starting lineup at right guard. The Bears need him as their swing guard. Moving him inside to center isn't a horrible option but it would deplete much-needed depth at guard.
Signing a veteran like Montgomery isn't a bad move either, and should probably happen no matter what, but Edison should get the first shot at replacing Grasu.
Edison is an experienced 23-year-old center with upside. He was dominant in college and has a great NFL body. He's held his own in camp and could be a diamond in the rough. For at least the first few preseason games, find out what Edison brings to the table. If he's a liability at center, then go a different route, but at least give the kid a chance. He could be a welcome surprise.null