Center Hroniss Grasu zeroing in on first career NFL start

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears rookie center Hroniss Grasu is one step close to making his first career NFL start.

An ankle injury to Patrick Omameh forced the Bears to keep emergency center Matt Slauson at left guard much of the week; allowing 2015 third-round pick Grasu to handle first-team reps at center on Wednesday and Thursday. Grasu is the obvious choice to start on Sunday if Slauson remains at guard.

“If we go with Hroniss, Hroniss would be the youngest center I’ve ever had,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I’ve always had, from Tom Nalen in Denver, Casey [Wiegmann], then Olin [Kreutz], [Roberto] Garza, and then Will [Montgomery] who just got hurt. I’ve always had older centers who make your life a little bit easier. So Hroniss would be the youngest guy, but it’s fine. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to play his butt off. If we go with Slauson, we already have one game under our belt.”

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said the organization believes in Grasu, who was drafted No. 71 overall out of Oregon.

“Obviously we liked him a lot just from the draft process,” Gase said. “Coming here from the system he came from, we were familiar with it. A lot of the guys we've worked with on this staff spent some time with the Oregon staff, Scott Frost, kind of knowing who he was as a player and person and seeing him kind of grow with us into what we do on offense compared to what he came from in college. He's done a great job and he's done nothing but get better day in and day out.

“He does have that rare ability to get to the second level and cut defenders off; and he's a lot stronger than what you'd anticipate. I know he's not like an overly sized guy but he does have good strength for that position.”

The offensive line concerns extends to left tackle, where Charles Leno is preparing to make his second consecutive start in place of Jermon Bushrod (concussion/shoulder). Bushrod did not practice on Thursday and is still in the NFL concussion protocol. Right tackle Kyle Long (back/ankle) also sat out but is expected to play at Kansas City.

The names of 13 players appeared on Thursday’s injury report.

Did not practice: Eddie Royal (ankle), Antrel Rolle (ankle), Bushrod and Omameh.

Limited participation: Alan Ball (groin), Tayo Fabuluje (ankle), Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), Shea McClellin (elbow), Pat O'Donnell (knee), Sherrick McManis (hamstring), Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle), Will Sutton (elbow), Cutler (hamstring) and Long.

Jeffery said after practice his recovery has been a “process,” but he plans to return soon.