After the trade of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and the release of center Roberto Garza, new voices will be in command of the Bears’ offense. And guard Matt Slauson plans to be one of them.
“I’m looking at it as a great opportunity and a positive challenge going into Year 7, starting to establish myself as one of the core guys on the team,” Slauson said. “I really want that.”
Slauson already has the backing of his teammates, who voted him the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. He was honored at a luncheon Tuesday.
Quarterback Jay Cutler, offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills and outside linebackers Lamarr Houston, David Bass and Cornelius Washington were there to support Slauson.
“To have an award that is purely voted on by your peers, by the brothers on that team,” Slauson said, “it’s a super-high honor for me as a player.”
Slauson, though, can’t be the leader he envisions being in 2015 if he’s not on the field. Last season, Slauson missed three games with a high ankle sprain and was later put on injured reserve after tearing his right pectoral muscle in Week 8 against the New England Patriots. He didn’t miss a start in four seasons before that.
Slauson underwent surgery in November for his torn muscle and said going on IR was a devastating experience. But he’s on pace to return a month earlier than first projected. The Bears’ voluntary minicamp starts April 28.
“I feel great,” said Slauson, who spent part of his rehab at Nebraska. “I should be getting cleared very soon. Everything’s come on great. Strength is just about 100 percent. Range is great, so I’ll be ready to roll next week.”
First on Slauson’s to-do list is getting familiar with new center Will Montgomery. But he’s familiar with his work.
Montgomery had a brief stint with the New York Jets, including two starts in 2007, before they drafted Slauson in 2009.
“It’ll be tough, but Will has been playing a long time, so he’s obviously smart, and he’s obviously good at what he does,” Slauson said. “I knew about him because he held just about every lifting record with the Jets, so I was trying to come after him.
“Ever since I found out about him, I wanted to see what he was all about, so I’ve been watching him now for about six or seven years, and I’ve been really impressed.”
Replacing Garza won’t be an easy task, though.
Slauson expressed his confidence in Montgomery, but there was an irreplaceable bond on and off the field that he and others developed with Garza over the last two seasons.
“One of his most incredible strengths was bringing us all together,” Slauson said. “A lot of times you’re out there grinding and battling, and tempers can start to go a little bit, and he just had a way of sucking everybody back in and being like, ‘Hey, guys, we are the core here. Let’s get it together, and we are going to win the game on us.’ He had a real knack for doing that.”
That’s where Slauson wants to step in.
Like other players, Slauson has been impressed by coach John Fox, general manager Ryan Pace and the new coaching staff. Something about them just feels right.
“They’re an incredible staff,” he said. “Fox is such a great guy, and I think he’s perfect for what our team needs. The way he is going to lead this group is just perfect.
“The offensive staff, I’ve been amazed with them. [Coordinator] Adam Gase, what a great guy, a super-high-energy guy. He’s just going to want to get after everyone, which is great. And the O-line coach is the same way, [Dave] Magazu.”
How would Slauson describe the team’s attitude right now?
“The energy level is super-high,” he said. “Everybody’s all jacked up.”