LAKE FOREST – Hroniss Grasu is pretty positive for someone who has experienced the cruel side to the NFL.
Grasu looked like an improved starting center last summer. Not even two weeks into training camp, he’s down on the grass at Soldier Field at Family Fest with a torn ACL. Then he watched as second-round pick Cody Whitehair moved to center and had an outstanding rookie season.
The 2015 third-round pick was limited in OTAs and minicamp but said he’ll be “120 percent” for the start of training camp, and he laughed at the suggestion that he may want to skip the practice at Soldier Field in August.
“I’m excited for Family Fest and any opportunity to get back out there,” Grasu said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “[The injury] was a blessing in disguise – when you lose the game like that, you realize how much you love it and how much you miss it. You appreciate it even more.”
That glass-half-full approach is going to be important for Grasu to still be a factor on the O-line. Missing all of the ’16 season gave him time to work on his strength and knowledge of the game.
“Obviously I got to focus a lot more on my upper body and my core,” he said. “It’s helped me a lot. Stronger now than I was before. Mentally I got to spend a whole year learning the game from a whole different angle, like the coach’s view, and it helped me immensely.”
Grasu said he’d be lying if he said he won’t think about the knee the first time he goes full-speed in team drills, especially the plant leg that caused his injury, but he used OTAs and minicamp to focus on his footwork to minimize the injury risk.
Of the record number of Bears who landed on injured reserve last season, Grasu was the first. He was around the building often, though, and said he enjoyed watching Whitehair flourish in his position.
“I loved it. I loved helping him. That’s why I stayed around all year long. I went to every single meeting and got really close with Cody,” Grasu said. “I wanted to see him be the best center in the NFL, and I think he was. I think he was put into a very, very tough situation. He just excelled so much, I’m really excited for his future.”
Whitehair’s future will certainly impact Grasu’s. Considered a center first and probably a center-only, Grasu did say he’s done a little work at the guard spots. The Bears re-signed Eric Kush as a reserve guard and will likely keep a backup tackle on the roster. But if Grasu proves to be the player we saw glimpses of pre-injury last season, and the one Ryan Pace drafted, it adds to the team’s overall strength on the interior.
“Just play fast. Be myself, go out there, play fast,” Grasu said about his goals. “Don’t try to be any other type of player besides the type of player that I can be, and that’s playing fast and being physical as well. Getting the guys lined up, getting the guys going, having fun and competing.”