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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Hroniss Grasu is pretty positive for someone that 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 following 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.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — For the second year in a row, John Fox gave Bears players an early start to their summer vacation by ending Day 3 of minicamp early.
“The players deserved it,” Fox said. “We had great participation for ‘involuntary workouts.’ We had great participation, great effort. That was their reward today. So they’re off into their break and trust that they’ll be ready to roll when they come back and report, whether they’re a rookie on [July] 19th or a vet on the 26th.”
The team now has a six-week summer break before reporting to Bourbonnais for the start of training camp. It can sometimes be a tenuous time in the NFL, but Fox says it’s all about trust.
“There's a lot of trust that goes on in football, whether it's the guy next to you, the guy at your position,” he said. “Under the new CBA this is what it is — they go away for six weeks. I think you have to have that trust. They're all wearing that same name on their back. And to be accountable and dependable for each other. Knock on wood, we haven't had a lot of those situations and hopefully that'll be the case when they report back.”
Fox said the team focused on situational football during the offseason training program, which included 10 OTA practices that preceded the three-day minicamp.
“We've been able to create some of the environments we'll have in games,” he said. “Hopefully the more they do it the better they'll get at it.”
Entering his third season as head coach, Fox said, “this is the most encouraged I’ve been in my tenure here.”
Balancing the reps: Over the next six weeks, Fox and the offensive coaching staff will work to figure out how they will run practices in Bourbonnais to best divide reps between Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky and Mark Sanchez.
“The biggest thing is creating the reps for all three quarterbacks and still developing the ones you think are proven the most worthy,” he said. “The way our practices are set up, we may give a certain group maybe more reps at the end of the practice where they're not quite as set as some people at that position. So they need those type of reps even though it's not games, it's still live football for the most part and making those decisions. A big part of being quarterback is the decision-making and the more opportunities we can put them in that position the better.”
Trubisky’s contract situation: As the Bears wrapped up minicamp, the No. 2 pick of the draft still was not under contract, but Fox said he was not concerned.
“In today's climate as opposed to say 10 years ago it's completely different,” he said. “I know there was a holdout a year ago but I don't expect to see any of that this year.”
Trubisky is currently one of 10 first-round picks who has yet to sign his rookie deal.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Bears’ leader in passes defensed last season wasn’t on the team until September and isn’t guaranteed a starting job this year, constant reminders for Cre’Von LeBlanc of his draft status.
“I'm always the undrafted guy,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “Nothing was given to me. No handouts. Never was fed with a silver spoon. Every time I come out on the field it's business.”
Claimed off waivers from the Patriots last year, LeBlanc wound up playing in 13 games with 9 starts and he had a team-high 10 passes defensed to go along with two interceptions. This offseason, LeBlanc is working to improve his footwork.
“[A focal point has been] being more efficient coming out of my breaks at the top of the route,” LeBlanc said. “I put a lot of emphasis on my breaks in the offseason. Another thing, too, is having the willing desire to compete on the outside and not give up too many plays. … I know [I’m an] undrafted free agent, back against the wall — gotta come out swinging.”
LeBlanc has taken reps both at nickel and on the outside during OTAs and minicamp, and it’s expected he will compete with another undrafted player, Bryce Callahan, for the starting nickel role with the versatility to bounce outside.
The two are battling against one another, but spend a lot of time together watching film, helping each other out.
"When both our games are elevated, we can do great things," he said. "When we're both on the field, it's amazing. We're just happy for one another.”
In minicamp, LeBlanc said the mental part of the game has been important to help the Bears improve upon its franchise-record-low in takeaways last season.
“Taking every rep seriously, diagnosing the play, diagnosing the formation, route concepts,” he said. “Looking back last year at some opposing teams and see what they're doing on film and their bread-and-butter plays and go-to plays on first and second down, just getting into the film room and watching it. So when you see it and it actually happens in a game, it's like, 'Oh, I know what's coming.' It's like first nature. That'll be big for us.”
LeBlanc believes he “shocked a lot of people” last season with his production as an undrafted player, and said his confidence has always been high.
“My confidence has always been through the roof,” he said. “… Last year, I put it all [on] the line. This year I'm going to put it all on the line. I'm never going to stop going hard. I'm never going to give up.”
Technological upgrades: The Bears had new robotic filming towers for practice Wednesday and a video board that could provide instant tape for the players and coaches to review.
"Those are just a couple things we've done this offseason to help our guys prepare to get better and help us win on Sunday," John Fox said.
NEW YORK (AP) — Four NFL teams will carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the 2017 season. Three players are from Britain and one from Germany.
The announcement by the NFL on Thursday is part of a new International Player Pathway program.
The international players are: tight end Alex Gray with Atlanta, defensive end Efe Obada with Carolina, defensive end Alex Jenkins with New Orleans and linebacker Eric Nzeocha with Tampa Bay.
The players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida the past three months.
Gray is a former rugby player; Jenkins and Nzeocha were recent college players. Obada was originally signed by Dallas in 2015. Each team will get an exemption for an 11th practice player, who is ineligible to be activated during the season.
LAKE FOREST — Mike Glennon didn’t want to mince words in his first media availability since the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky. His message came across as clear and often as a campaign slogan.
“I can only say it so many times, this year has been fully communicated that it’s my year,” he said following the Bears OTA practice. “I’m not going to worry about the future. As long as I play well, it will all work out.”
Glennon made some reference to 2017 being his year 12 times, to be exact, in his 10-minute session with the media.
He said that he was surprised by the drafting of Trubisky, but a phone call from Ryan Pace 10 minutes after the pick and again the following morning confirmed to Glennon he was still the starter.
“They brought me here to be the quarterback this year and nothing has changed,” he said. “So in my mind, I have to go out and play well, and I know that, and that’s basically the bottom line.”
Unfortunately for Glennon, the dozen times he reiterated that this is his year won’t end the questions, at least not until the season begins. And after that, any slip-up and the focus will shift back to the dynamic between Glennon and the No. 2 pick.
Glennon had started 18 games from 2013-14 before the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in 2015, moving Glennon to a backup role, so he is familiar with sharing a quarterbacks room with a top pick. But this time, it’s his job to lose.
“I think you can draw similarities [to Tampa], but it’s different,” he said. “I’m here, this is my year, and the meetings are geared around me. Am I going to help Mitch as much as I can? Definitely. I’m going to be a great teammate. But my job is to win football games for the Chicago Bears. And that’s where my head’s at.”
John Fox said that Glennon has “grabbed the bull by the horns” as far as being the leader of the offense.
“Really from Day One when we signed him, that was the approach,” Fox said. “That was the approach we took as an organization and the same with him as far as getting to know his teammates, maybe not in a practice element but as far as just communication. He’s that kind of guy, had the same reputation while he was in Tampa and same thing even at N.C. State as a college athlete.”
Glennon did notch a small victory over Trubisky during the practice, which was the Bears’ second OTA but first one open to the media. In a Dowell Loggains-run drill/competition that involved throwing at garbage cans, Glennon tied with Connor Shaw for the win.
The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
The 2017 NFL Draft was completed almost two weeks ago. With the draft behind us, what is up next for the rookies who were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents?
Many clubs had a rookie minicamp last weekend, while the rest will have their rookie camp this weekend. The players each team drafted and signed as free agents attend these camps as well as numerous other players who are attending on a tryout basis. A club can have as many as 90 players under contract during the offseason so for many clubs, they could possibly sign five or six players who were competing on a tryout basis.
These minicamps are a rookie's first taste of life in the NFL. They get their first NFL playbook and quickly find out that the NFL game is vastly differnt from the college game. Minicamp practices are mostly abbreviated affairs where really only basic things are installed. The coaching staff is really just trying to get a feel for where each rookie is as far as conditioning and understanding of NFL schemes. For the tryout players, it's just that....a tryout. With these players, the coaches want to see if there are a few players who have what it takes to compete in OTAs and training camp.
Following this weekend's rookie minicamps, the rookies can begin taking part in the offseason programs if school and exams have ended. If the school they attended is still in session and if the player hasn’t already graduated, he cannot participate in any off the offseason sessions until that is complete. Most schools that use a semester system are now finished, schools on a quarter system are sometimes in session until mid-June. The players from these schools cannot take part in the offseason program or OTA’s.
As we saw at many of the different rookie camps, several rookies are not in the condition needed to make it through the various practices. When they begin taking part in the offseason programs, they will get back into football shape fairly quickly.
The offseason programs include weight-room activities, classroom learning and on-field instruction. These offseason sessions usually last four days a week (Monday through Thursday) with Friday being a makeup day for a daily session missed.
In addition to weight room and on-field instruction, each rookie goes through an orientation program set up and run by the club’s player development staff. The program can include lectures on finance, finding a place to live and how to act in public as a member of an NFL team. The program can also set up “field trips” to get the players acclimated to the area in which they will soon live.
At the end of June, all drafted players are required to attend the rookie symposium. This event last four or five says and deals with some of the same things that the orientation deals with, including how to be and act like a professional. Many current and former players will speak at the symposium and relate to the rookies the experiences they went through as rookies. Some have of sad stories to tell, as the rookie experience isn’t always a pleasant one.
Beginning in late May or early June, clubs will begin to have OTAs (organized team activities). A team can have as many as 12 of these sessions and they are much like minicamp practices. A practice can last about 90 minutes to almost two hours in length. During the practices, there are individual periods where each positon group goes through drills designed to teach certain techniques. There is also installation periods where the offensive and defensive plays are installed and team periods when the offense goes against the defense. These are highly intense periods but there are supposed to be non-contact. Players wear helmets but no shoulder pads, so the chance of injury is strong if there was any contact.
It is during these practices that rookies are catching up to the veterans so to speak in learning the offensive and defensive schemes. The rookies who are able to learn and retain the best are the ones that get on the field the earliest. There is one thing certain about NFL coaches. They play the players they trust and they trust the players who don’t make mental mistakes. If a rookie doesn’t know or understand the system, he better stay after practice and try and learn it. Failure to learn and understand the scheme is a sure way to getting cut. Rare physical talent can buy a player some time, but NFL coaches are not known for their patience. A player's job is to know and understand what is going on.
Rookies and veterans usually have about four weeks “off” between the end of the offseason program and the beginning of training camp. Rest assured, they aren’t really off. Though they aren’t using the clubs facilities to train, they better find a way to stay in football condition as once camp opens. The coaches don’t wait for players not in top condition.