Hard-working Roberto Garza is leading from the center
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter December 14, 2013 12:06AM
In his ninth season with the Bears, center Roberto Garza (right) has been cited by rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills for his leadership. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Updated: January 16, 2014 6:37AM
Roberto Garza stayed around after most of his teammates had flown home and jumped into a rookie conditioning drill last spring.
After four grueling shuttle runs, Garza stopped.
When you’re his age, he joked, you don’t have to run the fifth.
‘‘I feel your pain, Garz,” said right guard Kyle Long, the oldest Bears rookie.
Garza shot him a stare.
‘‘You talk to me,’’ Garza said, ‘‘when you’ve played some football.’’
The message was simple: Respect has to be earned.
All these months later, rookies on the Bears’ offensive line have done just that, turning potential disaster — Where have you gone, J’Marcus Webb? —into a performance Monday in which the team didn’t punt.
The Bears have allowed only 22 sacks, the third-fewest in the NFL and exactly half their total from 2012.
Blessed with health, every starter has played every snap.
‘‘Everybody has to build that trust,’’ Garza said. ‘‘You do that on the field and playing. Those guys have been playing really well.’’
The rookies point to the 34-year-old center as the reason why.
‘‘He wasn’t my friend,’’ Long said. “But, boy, was he a great teammate. And now we’ve developed our relationship into one of great friendship and a great teammate.’’
Garza is a ‘‘lion in this league,’’ rookie right tackle Jordan Mills said.
‘‘You just don’t walk into a
13-year veteran’s cage and try to take over or try to fit in all at once,’’ Mills said. ‘‘We’re rookies. We had to earn our stripes.’’
The results are respect and affection.
‘‘He is the ‘Garz-Father,’ ’’ Mills said.
‘He’s like our traffic light’
Garza’s role is at once simple and complex: quarterback of the offensive line.
‘‘If there was no stoplight in the real world, then there’d be chaos on the streets,’’ tight end Martellus Bennett said. ‘‘He’s like our traffic light.’’
Garza reads the defense and calls blocking assignments.
‘‘Being the center, you’re trying to connect both sides [of the line] together,’’ Garza said.
Given the Bears’ youth, Garza is looked to — a lot.
‘‘His ability to communicate, keep guys calm and under control in stressful situations, is certainly a big part of that,’’ coach Marc Trestman said.
‘‘When you have young guys looking at leadership like that, and experience, they’re looking to Roberto.’’
Backup center Taylor Boggs — like Garza, a former Division II player — joked that Garza has seen everything.
‘‘He’s seen all the stunts before,’’ Boggs said. ‘‘For him, it’s easy. But he’ll at least take the time to explain it to me.’’
Putting in the work
Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff noticed Garza when he joined the team in November.
‘‘More than anything, it’s the way he works,’’ Ratliff said. ‘‘It’s not about, ‘Hey, I’m working.’ He’s working hard, but he’s doing everything the correct way, too.
‘‘That’s the biggest thing I take from him: To be a leader, you have to be like that.’’
Garza ‘‘somehow keeps getting stronger and stronger,’’ Boggs said.
The line lifts weights together three times per week and goes to weekly dinner, too.
‘‘Those guys take it very seriously,’’ Garza said. ‘‘When it means that much to them, it’s great to see them go out there and be successful.’’
Garza is ‘‘one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever seen play,’’ Mills said. ‘‘He leads from a vocal standpoint. When he talks, everybody’s quiet.’’
A Bear in 2014?
But for how long will his voice be heard?
Like more than half the team, Garza’s contract expires after the season.
After nine years with the Bears, he tries not to think about it — ‘‘I’m so focused on what I’m trying to do now,’’ he said — but sometimes it creeps into his head.
‘‘You want to have security,’’ he said. ‘‘You wanna be able to say you’ll be able to be back. I understand the situation I’m in, and I understand the situation the team’s in. So we’ll see what happens.’’